A Bristol Anthem
As a youngster, Doug Smith made frequent trips to the Bristol Public Library with his mother, always jockeying for a window seat so he could steal a glimpse of the iconic country music mural as their car passed through downtown. The painted faces intrigued him then, he said, and became even more intriguing in later years when he learned the story of Ralph Peer and the 1927 recording sessions that gave birth to country music.
A teacher, minister, musician and songwriter, Smith was reflecting on Bristol’s rich heritage and all its special places one afternoon in 2015 as he made a three-hour drive from West Virginia back to Bristol. He was anxious to get home, he said, and soon found himself making a mental list of all the things that make Bristol a good place to live. His thoughts turned to lyrics and, once back home with his guitar in hand, to a Bristol anthem titled “A Good Place to Live.”
“I started thinking of a lot of places that meant a lot to me growing up,” Smith explained. “The song just kept flowing as I was driving on this three-hour drive and, as I pulled back into the driveway, I just had to stop and write down all of the lyrics I could think of. Then I got my guitar and finished the song. It just came very quickly.”
Smith was playing in a band at the time and decided to play “A Good Place to Live” before a crowd one night on State Street. The song was well received and, when officials from the City of Bristol, Tennessee heard it, approached him about using it to showcase Bristol’s history and charm. Smith agreed and was especially excited when he learned that Jessica Nixon, a Bristol native who is now pursuing a music career in Nashville, had agreed to lend her vocal talents to the song.
“It’s a little surreal to hear your own composition sung by someone else but it was very meaningful, especially to know someone from Bristol recorded it,” Smith said. “It means a lot to me to be able to communicate through these words and through Jessica’s voice just how blessed we are here in Bristol.”
Nixon said the songs hold special meaning for her, too, and she is grateful for the opportunity to record it.
“It was a huge honor to be asked to take part in this special project,” she said. “As a songwriter myself, I wanted to keep the authenticity and heart behind it, just as I knew the writer would want. I became emotional when I went in to cut the song because of the heartfelt lyrics and how much I relate to them. I am so proud to be from Bristol, and so honored to be asked to bring this song to life.”
The video that accompanies the song was created by Brennan Dye and Scott Hill of the City’s Office of Community Relations and includes moving images of Bristol treasures like the country music mural and Bristol Motor Speedway. The railroad history of the town and the Bristol Sessions that earned the city designation as the Birthplace of Country Music also are included.
When those who love Bristol see the video and hear the song, Smith hopes they feel the same emotion he did the day he wrote the song.
“I hope they’ll consider Bristol and think of it as a place that is a good place to come and see,” he said. “It’s a good place to come and stay. It’s a good place they can enjoy raising a family, and a good place they can enjoy getting to know folks. When I think of Bristol, I think of that friendliness. I think of folks helping one another. I think of the beautiful area we’re blessed with amid mountains and caverns and the lake. It really is a good place to live.”