When Kris Truelson took the mainstage at ROMP on Friday afternoon in June, it was truly a “full circle” moment for him. It was only a few years ago that Truelson made the drive from Tennessee to Owensboro to buy a ticket to ROMP as a fan. This year, he participated as one of the featured artists, as the singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter for roots string band Bill and the Belles.
“ROMP was one of the first bluegrass festivals I ever attended and loved it,” Truelson recalls. “So being a performer this year is a great moment for me. ROMP has really become one of the leaders in roots music festivals and we’re thrilled to be a part of it!”
That’s a high compliment coming from a guy who had just come off a European tour with Bill and the Belles, with plans of performing a full slate of festivals this summer.
Kris is a busy man. When he’s not touring, he works at WBCM Radio Bristol, a low-power FM community station and Smithsonian Affiliate serving the Appalachian Highlands region of Tennessee. As Radio Bristol Program Director, Kris shapes and produces all on-air programming, including Radio Bristol live events.
He also hosts Radio Bristol’s long-running show “Farm and Fun Time,” a monthly live radio and television program that features contemporary Appalachian music. As a special treat this year at ROMP, since Truelson performed with Bill and the Belles anyway, he also packed up his gear to record the first-ever on-location episode of “Farm and Fun Time” with special guests Peter Rowan and the McCrary Sisters, who were also in town for ROMP.
“Farm and Fun Time will be a great fit for the festival and marks an exciting partnership between Radio Bristol and the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame,” Truelson said. “This will be our first time taking the live show on the road as we usually shoot at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia.”
Dating back to the 40s and 50s, “Farm & Fun Time” helped bolster the careers of bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, the Osborne Brothers, Mac Wiseman, The Blue Sky Boys, and more.
Even though the show is decades old, “Farm and Fun Time” is gaining new popularity now that it’s being syndicated on PBS television through Blue Ridge PBS. They say the show now reaches an estimated 18 million viewers throughout the Southeast. When the episode recorded in Owensboro airs, that means ROMP will also be mentioned to those 18 million viewers, as well.
The radio/TV show is also where Kris’s work world and performance worlds collide, because Bill and the Belles serves as the house band for “Farm and Fun Time.”
Meet Bill and the Belles
According to their website, the band is known for “combining a string band format with their signature harmonies, candid songwriting, and pop sensibilities.” They’ve also been described as genre-bending and decade-blending with comparisons to early country, with simultaneous similarities to early rock harmonists like the Shangri-las and the Ronettes.
Either way you label it, fans say it’s a whole lot of fun.
The band’s new album, Happy Again, is full of life, humor, and tongue-in-cheek explorations of love and loss. But that fun vibe is only surface deep. Lyrically, the album is inspired by Truelson’s recent divorce.
“One of the darkest times of my life turned out to be one of the most creative,” Truelson says in the band’s bio. “I realized, ‘My life is chaos. I need to write about this.’” Since he did, Truelson’s pain turned out to be a very productive season for the band; the eleven songs on the album were written in a span of several months, with two of the songs reportedly written the day before they recorded them.
More About “Farm and Fun Time”
With Kris serving as host, Bill and the Belles help with each show, as well, providing musical breaks, jingles, and songs in between other segments which range from farm visits to recipes and other aspects of folklife. Each show also includes performances by national touring Americana and American roots artists, which is why the live taping at ROMP will be a real treasure.
“We handpicked a few of the artists off of the ROMP lineup to make for what will be an amazing afternoon, including hall of famer Peter Rowan,” Truelson said.