Preview event was held back on Saturday, July 27th
By: Judy Shields
Photos: The Hollywood Times (Lance Silva)
The Autry, Los Angeles Times and Southern California’s flagship PBS channels PBS SoCal and KCET partnered to screen a sneak preview of the new Ken Burns documentary film Country Music at the Autry in Griffith Park. The event included outdoor activities, a live performance by country singer-songwriter Austin McCutchen, and a panel discussion with Burns moderated by Times columnist Patt Morrison.
The screening and events took place on the Autry Museum Lawn back on Saturday, July 27th. Featured fare from food trucks and a full bar with drinks were available for purchase. The 45-minute screening began with an introduction from Ken Burns, who also participated in a panel discussion along with producers Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfey.
The outdoor event was dog friendly; guests were welcomed to bring their canine best friends and take them on a walk down the step-and-repeat or try their luck in a country and Western-themed dog costume contest. The Hollywood Times had to bring their own canine babies!
The Hollywood Times covered this fun filled event and brought a couple of dogs along for photo ops.
It sure was a hot day for all of us and the doggies too. The event had plenty of water for our furry friends. The side lawn was full of folks in their lawn chairs and there were several food trucks with a variety of foods to choose from. There were VIP wooden chairs in the back , nestled in the shaded viewing. The event was well organized and folks could take a photos with their doggies and the museum provided a variety of pint size cowboy hats for the dogs as well as different colored bandanas. They all look adorable. The winner was a dog dressed up with Willie Nelson braids and bandana.
KCET put on another great event for the upcoming Ken Burns documentary Country Music.
The Hollywood Times was invited to attend a pre-event panel discussion with the Director/Producer Ken Burns and producers Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfey:
Dayton Duncan told us that he just came back from visiting the saved and preserved former refrigerated box car that was the home of Merle Haggard’s family, which was saved and moved to Kern County historical museum and while they were there they got a tour from Merle Haggard’s 98 year old big sister. It was a great thrill for them all he said.
The Hollywood Times (THT): Of all the subjects that you have covered before, what brought you to cover Country Music:
Ken Burns: “We are always looking for great American stories firing on all cylinders and I can’t think of a better project. I am surprised we didn’t do it before and we are really happy that we have done it now. It is a very big, wide, diverse and complicated story that I think particularly today we sort of need the universal truth that reminds us that everybody is in the same boat! None of us are getting out of this alive as we watch the tendency to retreat to our tribal corners, there might be some medicine in these universal songs. We don’t ever approach a subject with that in mind. For us, it’s spending the past eight years trying to master a real complex series of intertwined stories, so this is as good as it gets.”
Dayton Duncan: “If you think of the bigger or even smaller films that Ken has done, some of which Julie has worked on and myself as well, the National Parks is a uniquely American idea, transformed onto the landscape, baseball is an American sport, Jazz is another form of music that is American. Things that are iconic or uniquely American have always fascinated us and the same with characters like Mark Twain. This one is a uniquely American art form that we wanted to approach that way. The people are artists as well and many of them came from the most improvised backgrounds, but none the less, created art that is enduring as you would hope art would be.”
Peter Larsen, pop culture reporter at the Orange County Register: What slice of America is this?
Ken Burns: “It’s the whole pie. One thing the series tells you is that Country Music has never been one thing. More important, it coexist adjacent to all the other American music, adjacent to Jazz, adjacent to Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Pop and there are no boarders. If you put it in a country catalog, only certain type of people are listening to it, not true. The parents of Rock are country and R&B, which means the Blues, but the early days of country, all the heroes of country music had an African American mentor, whether it was AP Carter, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams or Johnny Cash, it that a good enough Mount Rushmore for you? All of them had an African American tutor. The banjo is an African instrument, so all of a sudden it isn’t a nitch, it isn’t a slice, it’s the whole thing. We will not run out of topics!”
“What country music provides is a lens through which we can see refracted much more than the history of a series of players and their songs. It touches on everything that has happened in the United States in the 1920s when it was first recorded up to now.”
“The music that comes to our film, the cream that rises to the top is really about two four letter words that we don’t deal with very often, which are “love” and “loss.” So what Country Music is dealing with is universal themes that every human being has gone through. People came into our editing room over the years who were big experts on country music and they left saying I had no idea, I have studying this my whole life and I can’t believe I had to come to New Hampshire, to find out more about Nashville and Country Music”!
“When you shed your own thoughts of what you think you know about Country Music, even if you love it, you got the real thing, doing homework.”
Terry Stanley, Senior Editor at Ad Week: The music has changed so much since you have been working on this, how did your definition of Country Music evolve?
Ken Burns: “We focused on the past and all of the things that are happening now have happened in the past. There are arguments about what is country and what isn’t since the beginning and what is genuine. There was the Bakersfield sounds, only because there was a Nashville sound, which is now smooth and the Bakersfield sound is sort of consequence and deliberately rough, but the thing is that we ought not in our media culture to be got in a binary dynamic, so underlying all of this is Lil Nas X, how come Billboard doesn’t put him on their chart, who cares, transcend that, it’s the number one song, everybody likes it. That means the commerce aspect just dissolves and the purity of it obtains. With us, we go up to the mid-90s, really up to the end of the millennium and we had to take a big picture, and that was a good place for us to end.”
Dayton Duncan: “We deliberately chose to end the narrative around 1996 or so, as Ken said, but we lead a little bit over that just to get to the death of Johnny Cash. In 1996, Garth Brooks has exploded on the scene and taking Country Music to new levels which you can feel that there is law that allows consolidations of radio stations, there is the death of Bill Monroe, a figure that has been with us since the second episode, Father of Bluegrass in two of people that help us tell that story, Marty Stuart and Ricky Skaggs, it’s an incredible moment for them as they then reassess their own careers and their own thoughts about what music is. Then we deal with the same time Johnny Cash has been dropped by his label, is asked by a hip hop record producer to come into their studio and for him to bring his guitar and his incredible voice and sing the songs that he wanted to sing. We needed a place to stop and we needed enough distance from today so that we can make the decision for every story we tell, every person’s life that we cover, for every moment that we think it is significant and spend time with every song. Those are all tough choices, what were the top 4 songs from 1923, more importantly was the start of fiddling John Carson, and 4 years later, the Bristol section was two foundational acts and that was a choice we had to make.”
“Who do you cover, is it simply what country radio plays, is that the definition of what country music is today? I don’t think so, it’s one aspect of it, hugely economically important but 20 years from now and if someone is looking back on the evolution of Country Music, that would be dealt with, will Taylor Swift be viewed as a significant influence in the history of the development. You could make a case that she will. You could also say that she would be viewed as the most popular Country star who crossed over in ways that others did not.”
Country Music, a new eight-part, 16-hour film directed by Ken Burns, premieres this Sunday, September 15 through Wednesday, September 18, and Sunday, September 22 through Wednesday, September 25 at 8:00–10:00 p.m. PT on PBS SoCal. The first four episodes will stream on pbssocal.org and PBS Video App, timed to the Sunday, September 15 premiere, with the second four episodes timed to the broadcast of Episode 5 on Sunday, September 22 with planned encore airings on KCET. Each episode will stream for a period of three weeks. PBS Passport members will be able to stream the entire series for a period of six months beginning Sunday, September 15.
The documentary, written by Duncan, who also wrote the illustrated companion book (coming from Alfred A. Knopf on September 10), chronicles 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.” Including footage of Autry Museum founder Gene Autry, 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 crucial questions—“What is country music?” and “Where did it come from?”—while focusing on the biographies of the fascinating 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—as well as the times in which they lived. Much like the music itself, the film tells unforgettable stories of hardships and joys shared by everyday people.
Here is Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan and Julie Dunfey panel discussion on facebook: [Note the playback doesn’t start until 6 minutes into, so be patient]
Funding for Country Music was provided by Bank of America, the Annenberg Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Belmont University, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Rosalind P. Walter and by the following members of ‘The Better Angels Society:’ The Blavatnik Family Foundation, the Schwartz/Reisman Foundation, the Pfeil Foundation, Diane and Hal Brierley, John and Catherine Debs, the Fullerton Family Charitable Fund, The Perry and Donna Golkin Family Foundation, Jay Alix and Una Jackman, Fred and Donna Seigel, Mercedes T. Bass, Gilchrist and Amy Berg, James R. Berdell Foundation, David Bonderman, Deborah P. and Jonathan T. Dawson, Senator Bill and Tracy Frist, Susan and David Kreisman, Lillian Lovelace, Michelle Smith. Major funding was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.
Country Music is a production of Florentine Films and WETA, Washington, DC. Directed by Ken Burns, written by Dayton Duncan, and produced by Duncan, Julie Dunfey and Burns.
About PBS SOCAL
PBS SoCal delivers content and experiences that inspire, inform and entertain – over the air, online, in the community and in the classroom. We offer the full slate of beloved PBS programs including MASTERPIECE, NOVA, PBS NewsHour, Frontline, Independent Lens, a broad library of documentary films including works from Ken Burns; and educational PBS KIDS programs including Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Curious George. Our programs are accessible for free through four broadcast channels, and available for streaming at pbssocal.org, on the PBS mobile apps, and via connected TV services Android TV, Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. PBS SoCal is a donor-supported community institution that is a part of Public Media Group of Southern California, the flagship PBS station for 19 million diverse people across California.
On-air, online and in the community, KCET plays a vital role in the cultural and educational enrichment of Southern and Central California. KCET offers a wide range of award-winning local programming as well as the finest public television programs from around the world. Throughout its 54-year history, KCET has won hundreds of major awards for its local and regional news and public affairs programming, its national drama and documentary productions, its quality educational family and children’s programs, its outreach and community services and its website, kcet.org. KCET is a donor-supported community institution. For additional information about KCET productions, web-exclusive content, programming schedules and community events, please visit kcet.org. Select original programming from KCET is also available for streaming on Apple TV, YouTube, Amazon and Roku platforms. For more information please visit kcet.org/apps. KCET is a content channel of the Public Media Group of Southern California.
About the Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times is the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the country, with a combined print and online local weekly audience of 4.4 million. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Times has been covering Southern California for more than 137 years. Los Angeles Times’ businesses and affiliates also include The Envelope, Hot Property, Times Community News and Los Angeles Times en Español.
About L.A. Times Ideas Exchange
The Los Angeles Times produces almost 100 events each year, including Ideas Exchange, Festival of Books, The Taste food festival, Oscar and Emmy Roundtables, and Eat See Hear outdoor movies. Ideas Exchange is an ongoing event series that brings together people with wisdom to share for one-night-only conversations designed to inspire new ideas and spur creativity. Through these events, The Times seeks to lead conversations and promote a more engaged and informed community. For more, visitlatimes.com/events.
About the Autry Museum of the American West
The Autry is a museum dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West, connecting the past to the present to inspire our shared future.
Museum admission is $14 for adults, $10 for students and seniors 60+, $6 for children ages 3–12, and free for Autry members, veterans, and children age 2 and under. Admission is free on the second Tuesday of every month.
Museum and Autry Store Hours:
Tuesday–Friday, 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Crossroads West Cafe Hours:
Tuesday–Friday, 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
The museum, store, and cafe are closed on Mondays. Visit TheAutry.org for more information.
Autry Museum of the American West
4700 Western Heritage Way
Los Angeles, CA 90027-1462
Ken Burns, director and producer
Ken Burns has been making documentary films for over 40 years. Since the Academy Award-nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, Ken has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made, including The Civil War; Baseball; Jazz; The Statue of Liberty; Huey Long; Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery; Frank Lloyd Wright; Mark Twain; Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson; The War; The National Parks: America’s Best Idea; The Roosevelts: An Intimate History; Jackie Robinson; Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War; The Vietnam War and, most recently, The Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science.
Future film projects include country music, Ernest Hemingway, Muhammad Ali, the Holocaust and the United States, Benjamin Franklin, Lyndon B. Johnson, the American Buffalo, Leonardo da Vinci, the American Revolution, the history of crime and punishment in America, the history of Reconstruction, and Winston Churchill, among others.
Ken’s films have been honored with dozens of major awards, including 15 Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards and two Oscar nominations; and in September of 2008, at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, Ken was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dayton Duncan, producer and writer
Dayton Duncan is the lead producer and writer of Country Music. He is the author of 13 books and has been involved with the work of Ken Burns for nearly 30 years. For The West, broadcast in 1996, Duncan was the co-writer and consulting producer. It won the Erik Barnouw Award from the Organization of American Historians. He was the writer and producer of Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, broadcast in November 1997. The film attained the second-highest ratings (following The Civil War) in the history of PBS and won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, a Spur Award from the Western Writers of America and a CINE Golden Eagle, as well as many other honors. He was the co-writer and producer of Mark Twain, and writer and producer of Horatio’s Drive, about the first transcontinental automobile trip.
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009), which Duncan wrote and produced, won two Emmy Awards – for Outstanding Nonfiction Series and Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming – and earned him and Burns the designation of Honorary Park Ranger from the National Park Service. His most recent film with Burns was The Dust Bowl, a two-part series about the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, broadcast in November 2012. It won a CINE Golden Eagle and a Western Heritage Award; his script won a Spur Award and was nominated for an Emmy. Duncan has also served as a consultant or consulting producing on all of Burns’s other documentaries, beginning with The Civil War and including Baseball, Jazz and The War.
Julie Dunfey, producer
Julie Dunfey began her association with Ken Burns as a co-producer of The Civil War; most recently, she was a producer on The National Parks: America’s Best Idea; The Dust Bowl and now, Country Music. Along with Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, she was nominated in 2013 by the Producers Guild for Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television.