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Hear the Songs That Influenced the Burns' Documentary – 'Country Music: Live at the Ryman'
September 7, 2019  | By Mike Hughes  | 9 comments

Before the new season starts, there's already encouraging news.

Yes, TV – the broadcast kind that you don't need to pay extra for – is occasionally capable of greatness. Fresh proof arrives Sunday with Country Music: Live at the Ryman on PBS (at 8 p.m. ET check local listings).

I've already babbled that Country Music, the eight-night documentary that starts Sept. 15, is one of the best shows ever. But that shouldn't surprise us: It's directed by Ken Burns, written by Dayton Duncan, with compelling stories to tell; that's a quick route to greatness.

But the concert is a bonus, packing some of country's best moments into two hours.

We see first the astonishing speed and skill of musicians. Ketch Secor and Rhiannon Giddens burst through "Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man?"; Asleep at the Wheel does "New San Antonio Rose"; Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, and Vince Gill (left) do Bill Monroe's vibrant "Uncle Pen." Later, Stuart roars through "Orange Blossom Special," Skaggs reminds us, "Don't Get Above Your Raisin,'" and Gill steps back into an amazing house band alongside fiddler Stuart Duncan and more.

But that's just the flashy part. Country can also stop on a dime and do a heartbreaking ballad. Rosanne Cash performs a song from her dad Johnny – "I Still Miss Someone." And Holly Williams doing a song from her grandfather Hank – "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."

Both are gorgeous songs, but the highlight of the night – or of the year – comes with "Crazy." It all comes together – Willie Nelson's songwriting, Giddens' gorgeous voice, hints of Patsy Cline's original performance, and Harold Bradley's production.

Other songs are there as historical landmarks – blues ("In the Jailhouse Now"), cowboys ("Tumbling Tumbleweeds"), the Bakersfield sound ("Hungry Eyes" and "Streets of Bakersfield"), Appalachia ("Coal Miner's Daughter"), the new-era songwriters ("Pancho and Lefty," "Sunday Morning Coming Down") and a protest against studio slickness ("Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?").

Sure, I might grumble that the show goes six minutes before its first song. Or that "I Will Always Love You" – the Dolly Parton song that great female voices have soared with – is sung by Gill (above). But Gill does it beautifully – after a night of great guitar-picking. And at the end, everyone joins in the ideal finale, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?"

Written as a church hymn in 1908, the song was rewritten as a Carter Family song in 1935 and re-rewritten by many people, including Mother Maybelle Carter's son-in-law, Johnny Cash:

"We sang songs of childhood
Hymns of faith that made us strong
Ones that Mother Maybelle taught us
Hear the angels sing along."

And we're reminded that so much music, especially country music, can be eternal.

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rick douglass
ketch secor fiddle and giddens singing wrere the best i have ever heard in my 80 years of life! i would buy a rcording of that song of ruby are you mad at your man , if i knew where i could buy it at.
Dec 7, 2019   |  Reply
Frank Fullerton
Where was Waylon Jennings in the documentary? Did I just miss him or was he omitted.
Oct 2, 2019   |  Reply
Pamela Lenfestey
The concert was amazing, but I would like to know the names of the band members! Stuart Duncan was on fiddle, but who played piano, dolbro & banjo, drums, steel guitar. Credits gone to fast for me to see. Great musicians!!
Sep 12, 2019   |  Reply
Sheryl Donnell
What an amazing evening of pure entertainment, history and enjoyment!! The Best Studio musicians in the world back it all up (including the incomparable Vince Gill). I am so glad I DVR'd this to watch again and again! Thank you to all who gave us this event!!!
Sep 12, 2019   |  Reply
Marie Specht
No mention of Conway Twitty, more hit records than mostly everybody except G. Strait. Unbelievable. Ask country women who their favorite singer is and many would say "Conway".
Sep 10, 2019   |  Reply
My wife and I both noticed the glaring omission of Conway Twitty. As you say he is only bested by George Strait in the hit song department. I can only wonder if it is because, just as strangely, he, unlike the overwhelming number of those who are featured in this documentary, was never a member of The Grande Ole Opry. Could that be the reason for this snub of one of Nashville's top hit makers? Maybe this exclusivity is the reason he might have chosen not be a member. At any rate, it speaks ill of the production that seems to zero in repeatedly on certain performers, while not finding the time to mention others. I mean really... The Byrds?
Sep 25, 2019
Toni Hendrix
It would be wonderful to know who the house band members were - great steel, dobro, fiddle, drums...talk about a high profile performance and they did great!
Sep 9, 2019   |  Reply
Doris Gainer
Who was the lady who sang "Crazy" at the Ryman Auditorium?
Sep 9, 2019   |  Reply
Bob Pound
Who was the fiddler on last nights show
Sep 9, 2019   |  Reply
Stuart Duncan
Sep 10, 2019
Mary crase
The show was wonderful. Will there be one next year. When will tickets
Sep 9, 2019   |  Reply
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