Worth Every Minute of Viewing: Ken Burns’s Country Music Documentary
Sadly, the 16 viewing hours of the Country Music documentary by Ken Burns on PBS has ended. As soon as it returns in reruns, it will be worth the same amount of screen time to watch it again. The first time around was full of new learning information: paying attention to the year, the descriptions and history connections. On the second-time watch, it offers more time to really listen to the music and take in the visual spectacle. If not at that time, a third binge watch will fill in the gaps. Did I mention it is worth your time to watch this?
A Huge Range
Most musicians have a general amount of knowledge about the history of music in the United States. Country has been a blend of blues, bluegrass, hokum, gospel, folk, rock and roll, and hillbilly to create the varied styles and sounds of today. The documentary ranges across nearly 100 years of blends between musical styles, creating new sounds which influenced other styles of music. At every turn, the series circled back to the beginnings of how certain music influencers like the Carter family took music, changed it, and then offered it to a new generation to experiment with along the way. The showcase demonstrated genius talent in harmonica, guitar, mandolin, and banjo instruments but also noted how important full orchestral backing with a wide range of instruments created a sound specific to an era of country music coming out of Nashville.
So Much to Discover
The days following each episode were filled with adventures in Spotify listening to the albums that were somehow missed in my country music education. At the office, we even had the blessing of being able to listen to an entire day of Emmylou Harris. Since this point, I have seen or heard the names pulled from the series more than before. I pay attention to the mandolin playing in newer artists I hear and wonder if they were influenced by Ricky Scaggs or Marty Stewart. It was an amazing learning experience.
If you love stringed instruments and amazing songwriters – and a beautiful range of music – you’ll find them in this documentary. Take it from this newly-schooled historian, enjoy every minute of your TV binge on PBS.