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Virginia Is For Music Lovers - capitalising the demand for music related travel around the Birthplace of Country Music

"Music tourism to Virginia has always been an important part of our overall tourism strategy. Through our research, we see that music is a major decision in visitors’ travel plans..."

On May 29-31st, 2023, the Music Tourism Convention will be travelling to Cape Breton Island in Canada, which is one of the most unique music destinations of the world.

As we get ready for the event, we’re expanding our new #musictourismhub series, a place to discover stories, profiles and resources from people working at the forefront of Music Tourism from all around the world. 

On this occasion, we head up to Bristol, Virginia, U.S.A., to talk with Andrew Cothern, Director of Communications at Virginia Tourism Corporation.

In this interview, Andrew shares lots of details about Virginia Is For Music Lovers, a campaign that is helping to capitalise travellers’ interest in the music history and vibrant scene of this State in the U.S. This is a campaign that has delivered impressive results for consideration of music experiences and introduced an innovative toolkit of creative templates so the power of the campaign can be amplified by music tourism operators and other members of the music industry themselves.

Hi Andrew, thanks for taking the time to do this feature for the Music Tourism Hub. To begin the interview, please tell us a bit about yourself. How did you end up working for Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) in the Virginia Is For Music Lovers campaign?

I was originally a music journalist for about 15 years covering Richmond, Virginia’s vibrant local music scene for many of the city’s major news outlets. I also ran a music blog called RVA Playlist for six years covering more of Richmond’s music community. In addition, I’ve been a local radio DJ and recently wrote a book on my time covering the Richmond music scene. When I started at VTC, I brought that love of local music to help promote Virginia as a music destination. I knew very well that Virginia has an incredible music scene and I wanted to share that with other music loving travellers.


Can you give us a bit of background about music history in Virginia? What are some relevant artists, or music history milestones that we should know about? For how long would you say that music tourism has been an important part of the regional tourism industry? 

Virginia’s music scene boasts a variety of different genres such as bluegrass, country, gospel, R&B, hip hop, rock and roll, jazz, folk, and more. It has diverse music venues ranging from historic concert halls to small intimate settings as well as a number of high-profile music festivals throughout the year. Some world-famous musicians who call Virginia home include historic icons like the Carter Family, Ella Fitzgerald, and Patsy Cline to more contemporary artists like Pharrell Williams, Missy Elliott, Dave Matthews, GWAR, and Jason Mraz.

Missy Elliot - Work It

Music tourism to Virginia has always been an important part of our overall tourism strategy. Through our research, we see that music is a major decision in visitors’ travel plans, whether it’s live music at local venue, a specific music festival, record stores, or an area’s music history.


How did the campaign “Virginia Is For Music Lovers” come about? Was there a report that signalled that investing in music tourism could be a successful strategy?

We wanted to raise awareness of what Virginia had to offer as a music destination in order to reach a new audience and expand trip ideas to current travellers. We also wanted to reach music enthusiasts in Virginia’s feeder markets who were looking for a music experience as part of their travels. Through our research, we saw that the demand for music related travel was just as big as history or outdoor recreation, and we wanted to take advantage of that.


What are the main elements of the campaign? What have been the biggest challenges of working on it?

Our plan included a new landing page on our website focused on music in Virginia that would serve as the main hub for all promotion traffic. We included updates on upcoming festivals and concerts, a series of blog posts focusing on different music road trip itineraries, event listings for active music venues, Spotify playlists, and destination articles on music towns. We used all this content on our weekly Virginia travel email newsletter as well as created a dedicated email newsletter specifically for music lovers to sign up. All of this was heavily promoted through VTC’s social media channels through paid placements and amplifying organic traffic.


One of the biggest challenges was to showcase that Virginia’s music scene was so diverse and to make sure we were covering different genres equally. Virginia does not have just one specific style of music. We were well known for country music, but we also have incredible folk, jazz, rock, punk, and hip-hop scenes that are just as enticing to the traveller who enjoys those genres.


What have been its impacts? How do you measure its success?

The campaign delivered impressive results for consideration of music experiences in Virginia, with more than 1.4 million impressions on VTC’s social media channels, 1 million impressions on search ads, 18,000 page views on our music related blog posts, 1,500 qualified email sign-ups to our dedicated music email newsletter, and 280,000 video views and 17% engagement rate on our music related videos.


From your application to the Music Cities Awards, we know that a part of the campaign was to provide music tourism industry partners access to a toolkit with creative templates. Can you tell us a bit about how that works?

To further amplify the Virginia is for Music Lovers campaign, VTC created the Virginia Special Events & Festivals Grant Program to assist with marketing and production of established Virginia special events and music festivals. Along with funding, music tourism industry partners had access to a toolkit with creative templates including digital banners, social posts, logos, news releases and blog outlines, enabling them to quickly customize creative and get back into the marketplace, while also unifying them in a broad-reaching campaign.


Also, from your application to the Music Cities Awards, we know that the campaign was created within the context of the COVID pandemic, around 2022. What has been happening with the campaign and its impact ever since?

The campaign officially launched in 2016 and we have been using it intermittently depending on certain projects we are working on along with our other marketing initiatives. VTC did bring the campaign back fully in 2022 once concerts and festivals started back up post-COVID as we wanted to let travellers know to come to Virginia for live music. After seeing the success of Virginia is for Music Lovers, VTC continues to incorporate tactics and strategies used in this campaign to continue the messaging of authentic Virginia music experiences in our future marketing.


Which do you consider as the highlights of music travel in Virginia?

There are several highlights for music travel in Virginia depending on which area of the state you are visiting. The Southwest region of Virginia is home to the Crooked Road Music Heritage Trail that weaves together 300 miles of picturesque terrain and historic bluegrass and old-time country music sites. Among the trail's landmarks are the Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol, Virginia, which tells the beginnings of some of the first country music recordings in 1927, and the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia that honors the enduring legacy of the Carter Family, one of America's most iconic musical families. The Coastal area of Virginia is known for its hip hop scene and home to some of the most legendary producers the genre has ever known as well as the site for Pharrell Williams’ popular Something in the Water music festival. Virginia’s capital city, Richmond, once known for its punk and hardcore metal scene, now boasts a variety of different music styles in its concert options.


Can you share a 1 day music itinerary for Virginia? 

Discovering the Birthplace of Country Music - 1 day in ​​Bristol, Virginia


  • Wake up and relax during your stay at the music-themed Sessions Hotel. Each room calls to the history and heritage of Bristol with themed decor alongside modern amenities, including a record player and country albums for your room to enjoy a private listening session. The hotel also includes indoor and outdoor music spaces with regular jam sessions.


  • Explore the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that tells the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, where some of the earliest country music recordings in America were made, including names like the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Visitors can also explore how evolving technology shaped the early artists' successes and see how this rich musical heritage lives on.


  • Take a stroll historic Main Street of Bristol, which is full of locally owned restaurants, breweries, and shops, many of which regularly host live music. Downtown gems include the famed lighted Bristol Sign, the Birthplace of Country Music mural, the Paramount Center for the Arts performance venue, and the famed Burger Bar, the last location where the legendary Hank Williams was seen alive.


  • Head up Clinch Mountain to the Carter Family Fold, a rustic, 800-seat music venue dedicated to the preservation of traditional bluegrass and old-time country music and named in honor of the original Carter Family, considered to be country music's first family. Every Saturday night offers traditional concerts full of people flatfooting.

Other recommendations:

  • Every September, the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion music festival takes place downtown and features more than 150 artists, drawing in excess of 50,000 music lovers.

We hope you enjoyed the insights Andrew shared about the Virginia is For Music Lovers Campaign and the amazing 3 day itinerary of the region in this entry for the Music Tourism Hub. If you're looking for ideas and tools to turn your city into a music destination, or have a music tourism project that you'd like to bring to new cities, then join us on May 29-31st, 2023, at the Cape Breton Island Music Tourism Convention.  

Do you want to keep up to date with everything related to Music Cities Events and Music Cities topics? Then we invite you to also subscribe to our monthly newsletter. 


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