This new eight-part, sixteen-hour film directed by Ken Burns, and produced by Burns and his long-time collaborators Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfey, premieres Sunday, September 15, 2019, through Wednesday, September 18, and Sunday, September 22 through Wednesday, September 25 at 8:00-10:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings for the time in your area.) It will also stream on station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and PBS apps. On September 17, PBS Distribution will release the series on DVD/Blu-ray with three hours of bonus footage. (Editor's note: We have screened some of the episodes and will be adding to this review once we have seen all of them.)
This is a monumental undertaking that succeeds on multiple levels. As we have come to expect from Ken Burns, whose previous films have included The Civil War, The West, The Dust Bowl, The Vietnam War, and many other award-winners, the series conveys the sweep of history and the impact upon American life of its subject using interviews, historical footage, and creative use of still photographs. Peter Coyote, the best voice artist working today, narrates each film with his patented clear enunciation and emotional shadings. The script by Dayton Duncan takes us from the earliest days of country music in Appalachia to the Wild West and Hollywood with expected stops in Nashville.
Why is country music so popular? "Its roots sprang from the need of Americans, especially those who felt left out and looked down upon, to tell their stories," we hear. Musicians chime in other appeals: It is "soul music that comes from the heart" (Kris Kristofferson) that speaks "to any mood you are in" (Charley Pride). It is "simple ways of telling stories, experiencing and expressing feelings. It has something in it for everybody" (Dolly Parton). It is about "those things we believe in but can't see — like dreams and songs and souls" (Merle Haggard).
To demonstrate these qualities of the music, the film team interviewed more than 100 people, including 40 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Among the storytellers are historian Bill Malone and a wide range of country artists such as Marty Stuart, Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, and Naomi and Wynonna Judd, as well as studio musicians, record producers and others.
Set aside some quality time to enjoy this series on television or disk (you will probably want to do both). You'll learn a lot of fascinating things about the development of country music, including all the various names it has had. You'll be privy to the stories of how legendary artists got their starts and what happened when they became successful. And you'll hear samples galore of the music itself.
We consider ourselves rock 'n' roll fans and haven't over the years spent a lot of time listening to country music. We will now.