The famed and esteemed documentarian Ken Burns took a visit to Maryville on his preview tour for his new documentary film “Country Music,” which naturally details the rise of country music as a genre from its genesis in the Appalachian Mountains— to its eventual spread to the West and the rise of cowboy country and modern country music. The film stands at a whopping 16 hours, divided into several parts and yet weaving a cohesive narrative about the history of a well-loved genre of music.
Burns himself spoke at the event, as well as a panel of people who worked on the film including producers and a musician hired to do consulting
work on the film and moderated by the founder of Clayton Homes. Burns himself is one of the biggest names in documentary film-making and has been considered by many to be the absolute best in the business.
Burns got his start as a documentary filmmaker in 1981 when he produced a documentary on the Brooklyn Bridge, aptly named “Brooklyn Bridge,” and has since gained fame and aplomb with well-known documentary hits such as “The Civil War,” “Jazz,” “Baseball,” and “The Vietnam War.”
One could likely guess the subjects from the titles. All of Burns’ work has been extremely well-received and are all considered extremely thorough in terms of content presented, interviews conducted, and stories told.
The story that “Country Music” attempts to tell is one of humility. Country music began as a series of songs people living in Appalachia would sing during the workday and has evolved greatly as a genre. The birth of modern country music occurred in the state of Tennessee. Bristol, a town on the Tennessee/ Virginia border was where country music was born after a series of recording sessions in 1927 brought country music into the cultural milieu it now occupies.
Moving forward, the film examines the movement of country music to its current capital of “Music City,” also known as Nashville. It looks at the lives of famous artists such as Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, the Carter Family, and various others that made the genre what it is today.
The event was capped off with a performance by Ketch Secor of the Old Crow Medicine Show playing his violin, or perhaps, in this case, a fiddle, accompanied by an employee of Burns’ documentary company who plays the banjo. Secor played extremely well and both he and the rest of the panel received a hearty ovation.
The film itself will premiere on PBS on Sept. 15, 2019. Maryville was lucky enough to host the first showing, only a preview, and the audience seemed excited to watch the entire 16-hour event when September rolls around.