BRISTOL, TN/VA ? Early showers did little to dampen the spirits of thousands of music fans who attended opening night of the Rhythm & Roots Reunion.
One of the loudest welcomes was for Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who joined the Biscuit Burners on the State Street stage for one song during their evening set. Kaine, an accomplished harmonica player, joined in on "You're The One That I Want," an original ballad of the band.
"I'm not a very good harmonica player. I enjoy playing. It's a blast. My wife says, 'Tim, play every time you can as governor, because once you're not governor, you're not going to get asked,'" Kaine said before the show.
The performance ? with Kaine standing about four feet across the state line in Tennessee ? fulfilled a 2005 campaign promise.
"I think I said during the campaign I would do it, but I have no independent recollection of that," Kaine said with a laugh. The governor said the downtown music festival wasn't originally on his calendar, but Sen. Phil Puckett, D-Lebanon, called last month to remind him of the promise and urged him to attend.
Festival Chairman Ed Harlow said Kaine's visit sends a message. "It tells everybody in the state of Virginia that this end of Virginia has something special going on. Things are happening here that couldn't happen just anywhere," Harlow said.
Kaine said events like Rhythm & Roots and Virginia's Crooked Road heritage music trail are important. "It's just a natural to take this great treasure trove of culture and expose it to people. It's a great way to get people interested," Kaine said. "It's economic development, it's getting people to come and spend dollars. But it also really is important to hold onto these aspects of our culture and celebrate them."
Kaine said he hadn't reviewed current numbers but believes public response to the Crooked Road program has been strong. "My anecdotal sense is pretty positive. We've seen some pretty good tourism numbers in Virginia this year," Kaine said.
All-day rains may have inhibited opening night attendance, but thousands still turned out to hear performances on three outdoor and 13 indoor stages. Most of the precipitation ended by 7:30 p.m. and large crowds gathered around all of the outdoor stages by 8:30. Performances continued past midnight, including an all-star jam session at the Paramount Center.
The festival resumes [Saturday], with music scheduled from noon until midnight. Headliners include Rhonda Vincent, Shawn Camp, Gene Watson, Acoustic Syndicate, Seldom Scene and Cherryholmes. In addition, this morning's lineup includes a 5K run at 8 a.m., free children's activities from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., a chili cookoff and hot pepper-eating contest at about 11 a.m.