As first reported on Saving Country Music in September of 2018, the long-awaited Ken Burns documentary covering country music will debut on PBS in September of 2019. Now further details have been revealed for the film, including a solid premier date of September 15th, while a special concert to be held at the Ryman Auditorium has also been announced.
Encompassing over 16 hours of coverage over 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 producer Dayton Duncan calls the “Human avatar thread in our tapestry”—as well as Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, and Ray Benson. The film will also utilize 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, and goes 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 the film is not to be considered an encyclopedia of country music. Instead, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan saw themselves as storytellers, following country music’s history via artists, songs, and moments that went on to shape the music.
“In country music we found a love for storytelling that translates everyday experiences into universal truths that we can all identify with,” says Ken Burns. “We’re very excited to share this film with the country, in towns large and small, from one coast to the other. But we are most excited to share it in those areas that gave birth to this most American of art forms.”
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. Peter Coyote—who has narrated multiple Ken Burns films—returns to work on the country music project.
On March 27th, a special concert will be held at the Ryman Auditorium featuring Dwight Yoakam, 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, and Holly Williams. The concert will also be filmed to be broadcast on PBS at a later date. “Bringing our film to Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music, and a character itself in our film, is a dream for us,” says Ken Burns.
PBS is planning for the Country Music documentary to be the network’s premier event for their fall season.