BCM’s new managing director says it’s ‘all about the music’ | Arts & Entertainment

BRISTOL, Va. — Landscapes of work are spread out over the spacious desk of Paula Hurt.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Hurt was hunkered over a veritable mountain of budget figures and computations. One thick binder accompanied stacks of folders and reams of papers.

Hurt paused for her first interview as the new managing director of the Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol.

“I am tremendously excited,” said Hurt, who served for 19 years as the vice president of finance and administration for the Bristol Chamber of Commerce. “I haven’t even had the chance to catch my breath yet.”

Hired in the spring, Hurt said her first official day on the job in the newly created position was June 1. She oversees the day-to-day management of the BCM Museum, the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival and Radio Bristol.

Longtime Executive Director Leah Ross is now executive director of advancement.

“We have an awesome staff,” Hurt said. “We’re poised to go to the next level. We’d like to expand the museum.”

That’s a far cry from when the organization began. In the span of 20 years, downtown Bristol has grown from a lot of empty spaces to a thriving hub for tourism.

“I’m a huge fan of Bristol,” Hurt said. “I feel like the Birthplace of Country Music, the museum and Rhythm & Roots are catalysts of that growth.”

Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled and rain pelted the pavement just beyond her window. The electricity blinked twice, and then all went dark.

But that’s not the case for Hurt’s optimism for Bristol and the Birthplace of Country Music.

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“What runs through my mind is the energy and excitement and synergy from the volunteers and board of directors with the Birthplace of Country Music,” Hurt said. “To see it from the inside is exciting. For example, when a crisis unfolds, everyone levitates to it. It’s awesome.”

A graduate of East Tennessee State University, Hurt grew up in Elizabethton. In addition to her nearly two decades with the chamber, she said she’s attended “more than 10” installments of Rhythm & Roots.

Furthermore, she added that she’s a fan of music. Country superstar Garth Brooks is among her favorites.

“I like country music,” Hurt said. “It is a part of our heritage. It is ours. No one can take it away from us here in the Birthplace of Country Music. This is permanent. We are so very blessed of that heritage.”

On the job for a month, she’s still navigating her way. For instance, the walls of her office remain bare, but a quartet of framed P. Buckley Moss prints beside her desk await placement.

“The organization continues to be strong and is growing quite quickly,” she said. “We’re trying to focus on the business side and shore that up.”

To her point, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the BCM did not hold its annual Rhythm & Roots festival in 2020. The museum was closed briefly, and there was a decline in paid admissions during the opening months and year that followed the inception of the pandemic.

“I will be very involved in the festival and the museum,” Hurt said. “My background is in accounting and finance.”

Like a train on the tracks, there’s a steady rolling rhythm to the Birthplace of Country Music. Paula Hurt rides up front. She’s not the only one on board, but as music fires the organization’s coal, she’s making sure that all steams well into the future.

“It is all about the music,” Hurt said. “This is the 95th anniversary of the Bristol Sessions. There’s a lot to be excited about.”

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