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Country music class is now in session

GAYS MILLS - Do you like country music? Most people do, at least some facet of it. There are many branches of the country music tree and that tree has something everyone is bound to enjoy. American country music is like the country itself; it’s a broad and diverse smorgasbord  of styles, artists, cultures, and tastes. 

If you want to know more about country music, there’s a new documentary out on video disks that is like a home-study course on the subject. Ken Burns is a documentarian par excellence and has now produced a fantastic overview of country music. You may be familiar with Burns’ other work on various big subjects like the Civil War, The Vietnam War, Baseball, National Parks, and others. 

‘Country Music’ is a PBS production and was recently televised. The program is a boxed set of eight videos that run for 16 hours and includes three hours of bonus, behind-the-scenes content. It is available for purchase and also for borrowing at many public libraries, including the Gays Mills Library and the Soldiers Grove Library. If you’re already fan of country music, you will enjoy this production. If you’re not a fan, seeing this excellent program may sway you to become a fan.

The series relies on many photographs and video clips as it traces the development of the unique art form that is country music. It focuses on the biographies of some of the fascinating characters who created what has become a worldwide phenomenon. Eight years in the making, it includes interviews with more than 80 country music artists.

The series is broken down into eight episodes which are: The Rub (beginnings - 1933); Hard Times (1933-45); The Hillbilly Shakespeare (1945-1953); I Can’t Stop Loving You (1953-1963); The Sons and Daughters of America (1964-1968); Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (1968-1972); Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? (1973-1983); and Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ (1984-1996). The evolution of country music has continued since 1996 and I hope Burns has plans to document those changes sometime in the future.

My own interest in country music was fostered when I was a kid. Early TV variety shows often featured country acts for a song or two. And Roy and Gene (you know who I’m talking about) didn’t make an ‘oater’ (western) without singing a few songs of the country persuasion. But a watershed moment for me was when I first saw and heard the opening to the Beverly Hillbillies in 1962. That bluegrass theme song spoke to me, loud and clear.

I began to listen to a local radio station: KWOW, 1600 Pomona! that was an all-country station.  About once an hour, the station would play a bluegrass song and I would listen just for that. Gradually, the rest of the hour would start to appeal to me and I became a country music fan, through osmosis, you could say.

So give it a listen, y’all, and learn about and enjoy some truly American music.