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Successful Failures make triumphant return to Rhythm & Roots

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Friday afternoon cracked the seal on the 21st installment of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion as bands from Johnson City’s Bill and the Belles to bluegrass’ Cedar Valley provided the initial salvos of a wide-open weekend.

Folks local and from regions far beyond Appalachia hustled along State Street as the clock struck 5. Weather  - hot, rain on hold. Stages bustled with activity. Around corners and up and down side streets, beehives of music enthusiasts buzzed in search of bands including Abingdon’s Basement Days on 7th Street.

Southwest Virginia’s Ron Short led The Possum Playboys on the Lauderdale Stage. Later in the day, Johnson City’s Dimestore Cowboys hit the lights under the tent at Machiavelli’s.

As the clock hit 5 p.m. signaling the start of the three-day musical buffet, jingle jangle went the twin guitars of New Jersey’s Successful Failures. The veteran band punched the clock with infectious melodies from their seven albums and nearly 20 years of existence.

Their name, drawn from a Jack London short story, the Successful Failures provided an hour of guitar-driven calls of the wild.

“We played here last year,” lead singer Mick Chorba said. “In the middle of this song, the sound went completely out. We kept playing.”

The Successful Failures whiplashed right through 2019’s “Disgruntled Bankers.” Witnessed by a large audience under the tent, Chorba’s rhythm guitar layered with guitarist Peter Smith’s melodic leads in the deceptively danceable song of despair.

“Pulled down like we got weighted anchors,” Chorba sang in the opening lines of the song, and then later, “…no moonshine, rock steady.”

They drew from such albums as 2019’s “Saratoga.” Nearly a dozen records to their credit as well as a forthcoming EP, the four-man band’s Rhythm & Roots repertoire bore through several levels of rock ‘n’ roll essence.

As the sun drew an unrelenting laser beam bead on State Street, the Successful Failures echoed such indie rockers as Pittsburgh’s Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers under the cool breeze at Machiavelli’s tent. They captivated on a substantially meaty style that ultimately bears the brand of distinction.

No frills. Such songs as the new “Uncle Jimmy” and “It Goes Away” snagged ears, rang as resonant in the bones, and compelled pockets of people to swing and sway and others to dance to the music.

Encapsulated in one performance in one spot during Friday’s first day of Rhythm & Roots, the festival appeared to draw an impressively large crowd. Up and down State Street, people navigated the festival’s wide array of cultural accoutrements from music on stages to painted art for sale with aplomb.

A fine early start to Rhythm & Roots, the Successful Failures return to the festival Saturday. See the roots rockers at O’Mainnin’s Pub at 5 p.m.

 Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He may be reached at

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