Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Artist Spotlight: Johnson City’s Bill & The Belles

Hailing from Johnson City, Tennessee, folk-fueled string band Bill and the Belles are a delightful combination of rich old-timey bluegrass and ragtime blues. Playing essentially in their back yard at the always happenin’ Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion Festival (BR&RR) this weekend for their ninth consecutive time, the group is ready to impress as always.

The core of the Bill and the Belles quartet sound features Kris Truelsen on guitar, fiddler Kalia Yeagle, bassist Andrew Small, and banjo/banjo-uke player Aidan VanSuetendael.

The swooning and crooning band focuses their talent on their impressive vocal harmonies and vintage feel. They deliver a sense of calm and comfort with their live performances, as we caught their set last year on the Country Mural Stage at the BR&RR. Their modern take on century-old music is most effective and endearing.

They channel this unique sound on their most recent album, Happy Again, in which they reflect on tongue-in-cheek explorations of love and loss. Guitarist Truelson comments on the album, “This was one of the first times I felt like I was writing country songs like my heroes that were actually from my own perspective.”

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​​In between songs filled with both grief and jubilation are some noteworthy outliers like, “The Corn Shuckin’ Song,” that began their lives as jingles on Farm and Fun Time, the band’s live variety radio show that now has its own spot on PBS. The delightfully frank album is full of life, comedy, and a sense of release. 

Bill and the Belles will be quite literally right at home amongst the other acts, and listeners coming to the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion will be in for a bonafide treat.

“The festival has really become a sort of homecoming for us. There’s always a bunch of friends on the lineup, and the support we get from the audience is overwhelming,” says Truelsen. He went on to say, “Bristol is central to country music and American roots music as a whole, and to continue building on those traditions is truly an honor for us.”

The festival itself prioritizes showcasing some of the best country, folk, bluegrass, and singer-songwriter acts around, and they fit the bill. (pun intended) It acts as a celebration of the very best in Appalachian roots music of the past, present, and future, and specifically the 1927 Bristol Sessions, which earned them the name, The Birthplace of Country Music.

Bill & The Belles have a new record on the horizon in 2023, which they’ll be performing some songs from along with potentially (spoiler) a fun Jim Croce cover. “We’ve been really digging into early Rhythm and Blues stuff, so we may throw in some recognizable tunes that come from that era,” Truelsen added. After the fest, the band will be busy on the road into fall.

They will be performing on the Piedmont Stage Friday September 9th from 5:30 to 6:30, and again at the Paramount Center Stage Saturday September 10th 7:30 to 9:30 for WBCM Radio Bristol’s Farm & Fun Time with Del McCoury, Willie Watson, and more.

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