Sign up for newsletter
 

Burns' "Country Music" doc coming in September

Friday, February 1, 2019 – Director Ken Burns' "Country Music," a massive 16-hour documentary about the history of country, will air in mid-September on PBS, it was announced today.

The eight-part series, produced by Burns and his long-time collaborators Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfey, premieres Sunday, Sept. 15 through Wednesday, Sept. 18, and Sunday, Sept. 22 through Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 8-10 p.m. eastern.

The documentary, written by Duncan, who also wrote the illustrated companion book (coming from Alfred A. Knopf on Sept. 10), chronicles the highs and lows of country music's early days, from southern Appalachia's songs of struggle, heartbreak and faith to the rollicking Western swing of Texas, California's honky-tonks and Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. The film follows the evolution of country music over the course of the 20th century as it eventually emerges to become "America's music."

The documentary explores questions, such as "What is country music?" and "Where did it come from?"-- while focusing on the biographies of the trailblazers who created and shaped it - from the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe and Bob Wills to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks and many more - and the times in which they lived.

A national campaign exploring the history and music through screenings and discussions will take place in more than 30 markets across the country leading up to the film's premiere. Kicking off the promotional roadshow is a country bus tour along Tennessee Music Pathways with stops and events with local stations and other partners in Cookeville, Bristol, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, with a special concert at Ryman Auditorium that will be recorded for broadcast later this year.

Dierks Bentley, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Rhiannon Giddens, Vince Gill, Brenda Lee, Kathy Mattea, Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Asleep at the Wheel, Holly Williams and Dwight Yoakam will appear in concert.

"At the heart of every great country music song is a story," said Burns. "As the songwriter Harlan Howard said, 'It's three chords and the truth.' The common experiences and human emotions speak to each of us about love and loss, about hard times and the chance of redemption. As an art form, country music is also forever revisiting its history, sharing and updating old classics and celebrating its roots, which are, in many ways, foundational to our country itself."

"We discovered that country music isn't - and never was - one type of music; it actually is many styles," said Duncan. "It sprang from diverse roots, and it sprouted many branches. What unites them all is the way the music connects personal stories and elemental experiences with universal themes that every person can relate to. And as it evolved, from the bottom up, it created a special bond between the artists and fans that is unique among all other musical genres."

The documentary uncovers the roots of the music, including ballads, minstrel music, hymns and the blues, and its early years in the 1920s, when it was called "hillbilly music," and was recorded for the first time and played across the airwaves on radio station barn dances. It explores how Hollywood B movies instituted the fad of singing cowboys like Gene Autry and shows how the rise of juke joints after World War II changed the musical style by bringing electric and pedal steel guitars to the forefront. 

The film includes the rise of bluegrass music with Bill Monroe and reveals how one of country music's offspring - rockabilly - evolved into rock and roll in Memphis. The documentary focuses on the constant tug of war between the desire to make country as mainstream as possible and the periodic reflexes to bring it back to its roots.

Burns and Duncan connect the history of country music to the larger story of America, looking at how artists and songwriting reflected periods of depression, war and cultural upheaval, and how radio and later television impacted the art form. The series also tells the story of how Nashville came to be not only the epicenter of the country music industry, but Music City USA.

The narrative ends in the mid-1990s as Brooks emerges from a small venue in Nashville to achieve phenomenal success, brings country music to an entirely new level of popularity, and yet shows up to sign autographs for more than 20 hours at the Country Music Association's Fan Fair.

Duncan, Burns and Dunfey spent eight years researching and producing the film, conducting interviews with more than 100 people, including 40 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame (17 of those interviewed have since passed on). Among them historian Bill Malone and a wide range of country artists such as Gill, Yoakam, Harris, Rosanne Cash, Merle Haggard, Marty Stuart, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Naomi and Wynonna Judd.

This fall, Sony Legacy Recordings will release a comprehensive suite of soundtrack music products timed to the broadcast.

Editorial: Walking the talk – When names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about. Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today. »»»
Concert Review: Combs, Gill, Harris, Crow comprise one final musical platter – Vince Gill played host to an entertaining guitar pull, a show which also featured his longtime friend, Emmylou Harris, slightly newer friend Sheryl Crow and brand-new friend Luke Combs. Gill joked from the outset that this All for the Hall fundraising show needed Combs to sell tickets, and by the audience's response, it was clear many came only to see Combs.... »»»
Concert Review: Stapleton shows his traditional roots – Chris Stapleton's All-American Road show feels like a singular mission to rid the genre of the bro country scourge that has plagued it for years. He came out with a blazing one-two punch of "Second One To Know" and "Without Your Love" and packed a stadium sized onslaught into a 9,000-seat arena. He never once veered from his... »»»
Follow Country Standard Time  Subscribe to Country News Digest  Follow Country Standard Time on twitter  Visit Country Standard Time on Facebook 

Elsewhere in the news

Currently at the CST blogs

Willis, Robison spin "Beautiful Lie" Eleven years ago, Kelly stepped away from music. She had just finished touring on 2007's exquisite "Translated From Love" and felt the angst of being a travelling musician with family at home. At that point, Willis and her husband, musician/producer Bruce Robison,... »»»
Chip Kinman celebrates brother, career on "Sounds Like Music" For a brief moment last summer, the news of Tony Kinman's death was, if not greatly exaggerated, then at least fortuitously premature. The roots rock icon, known for his work in The Dils, Rank and File, Blackbird and Cowboy Nation with his younger brother Chip, had been diagnosed with cancer in March 2018,... »»»
Shiflett learns "Hard Lessons" Until recently, Chris Shiflett took a somewhat obsessive/compulsive approach to his music career. For the past two decades, Shiflett has been the primary guitar foil for Dave Grohl in Foo Fighters; early in his tenure, Shiflett was so self-deprecatingly... »»»
White embraces "The Hurting Kind" John Paul White, to paraphrase a Steve Earle song, may just be one of the last of the hardcore troubadours. By 'troubadour,' we mean one of those guys that lives to write great songs - more specifically, great country songs - and then get these songs into the ears of folks that... »»»
Bingham gets personal with "American Love Song"...again A lot of the early reviews for "American Love Song," Ryan Bingham's latest set of raucous and reflective Americana brilliance, have characterized it as the singer/ songwriter's most personal album to date.... »»»
Wilson goes her own way After having huge success at the get go with "Redneck Woman," Wilson eventually went her own way and took a break. During her "hiatus," Wilson started her own label and was a "120 percent mom" to her teenage daughter.... »»»
Carll tells it like it is A visit with Hayes Carll finds him taking a rare day off at home to discuss new album "What It Is" co-produced by Brad Jones and Carll's girlfriend, Allison Moorer. "This album works around three themes; our relationship (he and Moorer), the world and myself.... »»»
Threads CD review - Threads
With "Threads," Sheryl Crow gets the all-star-guest treatment on what she says is her swang song, with each song featuring a favorite fellow artist. She seems a little too young for this kind of tribute. Nevertheless,  »»»
Let it Roll CD review - Let it Roll
Midland is more magicians than musicians. When the trio came out with their omnipresent 2017 single "Drinkin' Problem," they pulled off their first trick: a brand-new band to radio who sounded like old friends. Their sound and their look (matador »»»
While I'm Livin' CD review - While I'm Livin'
It's been 17 years since we've had a new album from Tanya Tucker, so it's a real pleasure to hear her clear throaty vocals deliver these songs with her characteristic raw emotion. Tucker knows how to get into a song and make it her own »»»
Gypsy CD review - Gypsy
Eilen Jewell's "Gypsy" opens with the ominous, mysterious "Beat the Drum," which is a swampy - and yes, gypsy - song of warning about some impending doom or other. It plays out like a softer type of vintage... »»»
Texas CD review - Texas
Rodney Crowell is a rare breed of a country songwriter. Yes, he knows how to write traditional country songs; it's just he's also a deep thinker, which requires extra effort on the part of the listener to appreciate them fully.  »»»
New Moon Over My Shoulder CD review - New Moon Over My Shoulder
Larry Sparks was still a teenager when Ralph Stanley chose him to replace his brother Carter Stanley as guitarist and lead singer in the Clinch Mountain Boys in the wake of Carter's passing in December 1966. »»»