Details Revealed for Upcoming Ken Burns Country Music Documentary
America’s premier film documentarian Ken Burns has been working on an expansive film about country music over the last half decade, and as part of this week’s AmericanaFest in Nashville, new details were revealed about the project. Ken’s primary collaborator and the screenwriter for the film Dayton Duncan spoke to an assembled crowd Thursday (9/13) about what country music fans can expect, and the scope the film takes.
Encompassing over 16 hours across eight separate episodes, the film will include footage from 56 separate interviews with artists and historians, including interviews with 40 Country Music Hall of Famers, and a few artists who have passed away since film production was commenced. Some of the principal commentators include Marty Stuart, who Dayton Duncan called the “Human avatar thread in our tapestry,” Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, and Ray Benson. The film also includes ample archive footage, including from the iconic film “Heartworn Highways,” footage from country music variety shows, and other archive material.
Over 500 songs are featured throughout the film, from small snippets to full performances. The film starts all the way back in 1923 with Fiddlin’ John Carson who began performing at an Atlanta radio station and became a star, to roughly 1996 with the death of Bill Monroe, and the revitalization of Johnny Cash’s career via his work with Rick Rubin and his American Recordings projects. In between, the story of country music is told, but as Dayton Duncan explained, the film is not an encyclopedia of country music. They are storytellers, following country music’s history via artists, songs, and moments that went on to shape the music.
There is an episode specific to Texas music (Episode 7), which is the only episode that stretched over 2 hours, clocking in at 2 hours and 16 minutes. As part of the presentation at AmericanaFest, four clips from the film were played, including a clip from the Texas episode with Rodney Crowell crediting Texas for being such a hotbed for country music to, “We’re the best liars in the world.”
Dayton Duncan explained that the film is essentially done, with only sound effects and final editing to be finished. They’re also working on releasing a soundtrack for the film, as well as a companion book that will include information from the over 175 hours of interviews that didn’t make it into the film. Peter Coyote—who has narrated multiple Ken Burns films—returns to work on the country music project.
The film is expected to premier on PBS in September of 2019.
September 13, 2018 @ 12:12 pm
Looking forward to this one.
Let's go to Luckenbach, Texas with Lil Dale, Trigger and the boys
September 13, 2018 @ 3:45 pm
Ken Burns is a communist.
September 14, 2018 @ 12:38 am
Can I have some of that Peyote Tea you’ve been sipping on, Lil Dale?
September 14, 2018 @ 12:47 am
Don’t bet against Bama – a LOT of shirts have been lost doin’ that. And, as for Ken Burns being a communist, meh…. – he does good docs. I don’t care.
September 14, 2018 @ 6:36 am
The purpose of Ken Burns is to reinforce the elite’s reinvented narrative of history and recent events and make sure that this is the dominant and “respectable” view held by all of the subjects of the empire.
“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” – G.O.
September 14, 2018 @ 8:37 am
I have a cousin who talks like you.
Stark raving libertarian conspiracy theorist. Can’t have a conversation about anything without him drawing a crazy line in the sand.
Wasn’t always that way.
“I hope the high road leads you home again.” – J.I.
September 14, 2018 @ 8:40 am
Is that you cousin Benny? I washed your tupperware. I’ll leave it on your porch next week. I had no idea you read this website. What a small world…
September 14, 2018 @ 2:52 pm
@ RD My, my you certainly seem to enjoy being the skunk weed at the party. Do you actually strive for any purpose aside from waving your self-soiled diaper high above your head and proclaiming accomplishment? There truly is no need for you to take the occasional break from your scatalogical projects long enough to provide us all with your most simplistic insights. I’m certain you truly believe we’ll all be the better for them but alas that would just another bit of delusional nonsense on your part.
September 14, 2018 @ 3:00 pm
Okay guys, the personal insults and back and forths are ugly and distract from what should be very well-received news about an interesting documentary. And further comments will be edited or deleted. Stay on topic, or take your personal insults back to social media.
September 14, 2018 @ 3:35 pm
I heartily agree that this work by Ken Burns is welcome news but I have a weakness that makes it difficult for me to abide a ninny. My apologies to you.
September 15, 2018 @ 9:49 am
His jazz doc series seemed pretty damn objective/impartial from what I remember
September 20, 2018 @ 9:22 pm
I recommend Ken’s Jazz doc. to anyone getting into Jazz. It has it’s detractors but it’s a thoroughly genuine attempt to present Jazz honestly to the uninitiated. If his Country doc. is as lovingly researched it should be considered as Essential Viewing as Heartworn Highways.
September 13, 2018 @ 12:51 pm
September 13, 2018 @ 12:57 pm
Sounds good! 🙂
September 13, 2018 @ 1:15 pm
A 16 hour, presumably thoughtful look at Country, is going to be…just what I need about now.
September 13, 2018 @ 1:22 pm
Not to jump the gun on this but Ken Burns is one of the best in the field of documentaries so I have really high expectations for this project. Probably going to binge watch this when it gets released.
September 13, 2018 @ 8:53 pm
His baseball documentary is one of my favorites and one that I’ll find myself going back to any time they replay it on tv
September 13, 2018 @ 2:00 pm
Wow! will this come on DVD/s?
September 13, 2018 @ 2:20 pm
Would be a safe bet, considering his other documentary series are.
September 13, 2018 @ 3:14 pm
Thanks. Just hoping it also will be released in Europe too. Because it’s damn expensive to import DVDs. The last DVD I imported was the doc. about the Carter Family (Winding Stream). It was $20 in US. But because of freight, customs and taxes I ended up paying $53. But it was worth it…
September 14, 2018 @ 4:53 am
Do DVDs still exist? That’s adorable.
September 14, 2018 @ 9:40 am
Older folks, who seem to enjoy documentaries still buy DVDs (and get this, CDs too).
September 13, 2018 @ 2:39 pm
It probably stops around 1996 because that’s when country music died
September 13, 2018 @ 3:32 pm
Would be an awesome FU to the current state of the mainstream if they actually said that…
September 13, 2018 @ 5:14 pm
so funny Ben ……I was wondering what that was all about and I was thinking the same thing ,HOWEVER..it would have been interesting and entertaining had the past 20 year been taken into consideration also . Arguably the state of ‘country ‘ music right now says as much about its social place ( or lack there-of) as at any time in its history
September 13, 2018 @ 5:41 pm
In all seriousness it would be interesting to see what they would say about the current state of country music the last 15 years
September 14, 2018 @ 8:59 am
They’d probably need to bring Trigger in as a consultant.
September 13, 2018 @ 11:22 pm
Country music never died,turn off your radio and dig deeper, there’s a ton of great new Country artists out right now, Sturgill Simpson,Colter Wall,Cody Jinks,John Moreland,Joshua Hedley,Tyler Childers,Lydia Loveless,Nikki Lane,Whitey Morgan,Paul Cauthen,Jason Isbell,Chris Stapleton, not to mention loads of legends still kickin about from Chris Knight and Jamey Johnson to Willie Nelson to Emmylou Harris,Marty Stuart,Steve Earle,Dwight Yoakam and if you like some Bluegrass check out Molly Tuttle and Billy Strings that’s the short list. that said for anyone who wants to check out a great Country doc they don’t have to wait a year for go on YouTube and look up BBC Lost Highway The Story Of Country Music
September 14, 2018 @ 4:04 pm
September 14, 2018 @ 4:54 am
Imagine being this out of touch with reality
September 15, 2018 @ 7:26 am
Yeah maybe don’t watch the last episode. Haha.
September 26, 2019 @ 11:56 am
Yup looks like Yoakum got in trouble for pointing that out Columbia mistake of dumping Cash in no uncertain terms
September 13, 2018 @ 2:48 pm
Country music deserves the full Ken Burns treatment as the huge part of American culture and history that it is. Too bad it’s still a year away. Will have to fill my Jones with Cocaine and Rhinestones in the meantime, whenever season 2 comes out.
September 13, 2018 @ 3:35 pm
As a Ken Burns junkie who owns no fewer than four of his series on DVD (“The Civil War,” “The War,” “Prohibition,” and “The Dust Bowl”) and has watched two others the whole way through (“The Roosevelts” and “The Vietnam War”), I am very excited for this as well.
By the way, you may have gotten something of a sneak peek if you watched the Vietnam documentary, which includes a brief snippet of an interview with Jan Howard. It was mentioned that her son, about whom she wrote her hit song “My Son,” was killed in the war. Afterwards, a group of anti-war demonstrators knocked on her door and asked if she’d be willing to come to a protest with them. Jan angrily ordered them off her property and told them she’d shoot them if they came back.
September 13, 2018 @ 3:39 pm
Great part of that documentary.
September 13, 2018 @ 4:04 pm
A freaken year ! Ok i,ll wait !
September 13, 2018 @ 4:59 pm
I cant wait for this. I only started listening to Country Music in early 2016. My knowledge of country music before that time is minimal, and only a few things I’ve learned here and there. We didnt get this type of music much in NYC suburbs in the 80s and 90s growing up.
Looking forward to learning some great info
September 13, 2018 @ 5:18 pm
ezra …with all due respect if you’ve only been listening to ‘country ‘ music since 2016 you are NOT listening to COUNTRY music …….
good on you for your interest in the real stuff ,,,,,
September 14, 2018 @ 4:58 am
with all due respect, just ’cause he’s been listening since 2016, that doesn’t mean he’s not listening to real country music. He could be listening to nothing but underground artists for we know. Of course it’ll be great to know the blueprints from the past, but he didn’t say he was boppin to Sam Hunt and FGL exclusively, right? Unless he did somewhere else…
September 14, 2018 @ 9:47 am
He didn’t say he’s only listening to top-40 pop country post 2016. I’ve been into “Americana” in general and on a casual basis for a long time, but only dedicated to country since about 2015. Plenty of amazing country records released since then, and plenty to catch up on.
This genre has a century of history. Are we going to mock new fans, or welcome them aboard and encourage them to dig deep for the good stuff? I thought I left this “I was here first, take a hike poser” routine in high-school.
September 13, 2018 @ 5:08 pm
Ken Burns could not have picked a better historian and storyteller than Marty Stuart to be a large part of this series. He is the walking, talking history of country music and has an incredible gift for storytelling. He makes you feel like you are in that moment as he tells the story. This is exactly what I’ve been hoping for — something to educate the next generation on the significance of the history of this genre. That education will hopefully glean appreciation for those folks, as well. I am excited to watch this series!
September 14, 2018 @ 1:03 am
My guess is he’ll use Marty much the same way he utilized Shelby Foote in the Civil War series. Foote was perfect and so will Marty. Also, I could listen to Coyote read the phone book.
September 14, 2018 @ 6:28 am
The only redeeming virtue of the “Civil War” documentary was that Shelby Foote was featured.
September 14, 2018 @ 7:41 am
Or Wynton Marsalis in his Jazz documentary, which is fantastic (like all his other stuff). Wynton is featured prominently in all the episodes and was listed as the artistic director and got producer credits. He is the glue that held everything together. Seems like Marty will have a very similar roll. Can’t wait for this!
September 14, 2018 @ 4:17 am
I don’t see Dwight Yokham listed above in Trigger’s article but I hope he gets some screen time in this. He is an encyclopedia of country knowledge, especially the Bakersfield “era”. His episode of Walking the Floor was the best one I have heard so far.
September 13, 2018 @ 5:12 pm
I’m a Ken Burns junkie too!
I’ve watched National Parks and the Roosevelts many times (in the winter). The recent Vietnam documentary… the music was insane good! It opened my ears to songs I’ve either never heard or had an appreciation for I watched the doc.
This is going to be good.
September 14, 2018 @ 1:07 am
Haven’t watched the Vietnam doc yet – on the list. Please tell me he avoids songs by The Fucking Doors every two minutes.
September 14, 2018 @ 5:55 am
I’m about halfway through my second time watching it. I didn’t remember an overabundance of Doors. Just checked and it turns out there isn’t any. Lots of Dylan.
September 13, 2018 @ 5:44 pm
Yeah sounds about right… country music died in 1996… too damn bad because that was the year I was born. Anyway… can’t wait to see this documentary. Ken burns is a master film maker… and he’ll bring that mastery to this doc… that’s what’s going to make it great! Who would have thought it was going to take Ken Burns to bring something good to country music?
September 13, 2018 @ 7:50 pm
Burns is a court historian. I am willing to bet i know what his game is going to be.
September 16, 2018 @ 8:13 am
Burns did 9/11, too, right?
September 13, 2018 @ 9:20 pm
Will definitely check this out when the time comes. I loved his National Parks series.
September 13, 2018 @ 11:26 pm
Hope there is a heavy dose of Eddy Arnold included. It’s a shame that he was one of the biggest names of all time yet gets zero recognition today. A true giant of the industry.
September 14, 2018 @ 4:55 am
I have no doubts this is going to be an amazing series. His baseball and prohibition docs are 2 of my favorite ever made. They’re perfect if you’re trying to absorb every detail, but also as calming background noise if you’re trying to sleep, too.
September 14, 2018 @ 6:46 am
Looking forward to this . I’m a big fan of his documentaries. Hoping he does touch on the issues in today’s mainstream “country” environment.
Dirt Road Derek
September 14, 2018 @ 7:58 am
This sounds awesome! I love documentaries, especially series since the format allows for much more content and an unhurried pace.
September 14, 2018 @ 9:39 am
Worth mentioning – Bill Malone, writer of Country Music USA, was/is a major consultant and participant (interviewee) on this series. Malone, Stuart etc. This series is in good hands. Looking forward to it.
September 14, 2018 @ 12:54 pm
My two biggest leisure time activities are watching baseball and listening to country music and I’m also a history buff. This guy seems to be my hero.
September 15, 2018 @ 7:19 am
I heard this got started because Ken gets his hair cut by the same guy that does Randy Owen.
September 15, 2018 @ 7:54 am
September 15, 2018 @ 6:13 pm
This will be great.
Per Tore Gresseth
September 16, 2018 @ 4:39 am
I know it’s early to talk about it yet, but i hope it’s available internationally.
September 19, 2018 @ 12:02 am
I can’t wait for this, but I don’t get the decision to leave out the last 22 years in the documentary, especially with what’s happened to country music these last two decades.
September 19, 2018 @ 5:49 am
Pretty funny that the segment on Texas country is a bit longer than the rest. Makes sense (although Vincenzo Coccotti would take issue with Rodney’s claim that Texans are the best liars int the world).
January 15, 2019 @ 4:02 pm
If Ken wants to do a real documentary on “Country Music”, he needs to forget the Nashville poop ‘n get the True Artists still doing it! Otherwise, it’s just more “Hollywood Glitter” crap! I hope he’s smart enough!
January 15, 2019 @ 4:07 pm
I posted a comment, but don’t see it here?? But, again…
if Ken is going to make a Documentary on “Country Music” (‘n I do enjoy his stuff!), he needs to contact the ones who are really & still doing it …Not the Nashville Poop ‘n glitter!! Otherwise, more baloney!!!