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Ken Burns Documentary on Country Music to Screen at Grand Ole Opry House

The special event will benefit Nashville's public television station.

Ken Burns Documentary on Country Music to Screen at Grand Ole Opry House
Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, New York City, 1975. Credit: Sony Music Archives

There is little doubt that documentarian Ken Burns is the most respected chronicler of American history living today. The winner of a remarkable fifteen Emmy Awards, he has pointed his camera at important subjects such as the Civil War, baseball, jazz music and the National Parks system, but his latest project may just be his grandest effort yet.

In September, public television stations across the country will air his new eight-part, 16-hour documentary on the subject of country music. According to the documentary’s website: “The film follows the evolution of country music and its players over the course of the twentieth century, as it eventually emerged to become America’s music, focusing on artists such as Garth Brooks, the Carter family, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, and many more.”

Burns’ Country Music premieres on PBS Sunday, September 15 and airs nightly through Wednesday, September 18 and again on Sunday, September 22 through Wednesday, September 25 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. CDT each night. The episodes will stream on station-branded PBS platforms for a limited time. PBS Passport members will be able to stream the entire series for a period of six months beginning Sunday, September 15.

However, Nashville music history fans will have a special chance to attend a viewing party hosted by Opry Entertainment along with Belmont University on Sunday, September 15 at the Grand Ole Opry House. But don’t worry, you won’t have to sit through all 16 hours at one time.

The Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, c.1960. Photograph by Les Leverett
The Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, c.1960. Photograph by Les Leverett

The event which runs from 5:00 until 9:00 will feature a pre-event reception, a special screening of part one of the documentary and a special 30-minute performance from Grand Ole Opry members Old Crow Medicine Show.

“As the stewards of the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium where so many of the unforgettable moments featured in this film took place, we are thrilled to host this event and support access to quality programming,” said Scott Bailey, president of Opry Entertainment Group. “Like many of our partners in the Nashville community, we have eagerly anticipated the premiere of this film, and we hope it inspires everyone who watches to visit Nashville and experience this one-of-a-kind city for themselves.”

Merle Haggard with Dayton Duncan in December 2014; Photo credit: Jared Ames
Merle Haggard with Dayton Duncan in December 2014; Photo credit: Jared Ames

Tickets for this special event are available to the public for $75 and are on sale beginning Friday, August 23 via opry.com/kenburns. Ticket proceeds will benefit Nashville’s local public television station, WNPT. Tickets include entry into the Opry’s newly installed immersive Circle Room theater experience, the Old Crow Medicine Show performance, a one-year subscription to PBS Passport (a $60 value), two drink tickets, pre-show hors d’oeuvres and a general admission seat in the Opry House to view the two-hour first episode. The first 500 people entering the Opry House will also receive a copy of Old Crow Medicine Show’s forthcoming album, Live at the Ryman. Participating partners in the event also include CMA, Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp., Tennessee State Tourism, Music City Music Council, Grayline Tours and WPLN (Nashville Public Radio).

“We are thrilled to be working with Opry Entertainment Group to bring this exciting opportunity to our viewers and other country music fans,” said Kevin Crane, NPT’s president and CEO.