Ken Burns makes a stop in Clovis for documentary promotion

Ken Burns (right) answers questions at the Clovis Rodeo Hall about his upcoming Country Music documentary. It will air on ValleyPBS on September 15. PHOTO BY NUGESSE GHEBRENDRIAS/CLOVIS ROUNDUP

Renowned documentarian Ken Burns is on the road this summer to promote his COUNTRY MUSIC documentary and one of his stops in California happened to be Clovis.  

Burns (Director/Producer), Dayton Duncan (Writer/Producer) and Julie Dunfey (Producer), answered questions at the Clovis Rodeo Hall to members of the local media about their eight-part, 16-hour documentary that chronicles the history of country music.  

The film team then held a public screening for residents of the Central Valley at William Saroyan Theater Thursday night, which marks Burns first visit to the Fresno/Clovis area.  

“It’s a big, huge and sprawling epic American story,” Burns said. “The songwriter Harlan Howard said about country music, ‘It’s three chords and the truth.’ That means it’s not an elaborate, intricate and sophisticated music like say classical, but it speaks about universal human truths about love and lost that everybody experiences.” 

The documentary, which will run on ValleyPBS and PBS as a whole on September 15 will give viewers an in depth look into the lives and careers of some of country music’s greatest heroes, including Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Jimmy Rogers.  

Duncan, writer and producer of the documentary mentioned how researching the origins of country music revealed that there were many different influences over the years.  

“We discovered that country music isn’t––and never was––one type of music; it actually is many styles,” Duncan said. “It sprang from diverse roots, and it sprouted many branches. What unites them all is the way the music connects personal stories and elemental experiences with universal themes that every person can relate to. And as it evolved, from the bottom up, it created a special bond between the artists and fans that is unique among all other musical genres.”   

The film crew documented over 100 hours of interviews over an eight-year period. Including 40 members of the Country Music Hall of Fame (17 of which have since passed on) and over 3,200 photographs and never-before-seen photos and footage of Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Cash and others. 

“It starts in the 1920’s when country music was first sort of recorded. Some of the great artists like Jimmy Rogers and the Carter Family and it goes back a few centuries and sort of deals with roots of the instruments and the type of music they are singing,” Burns said. “It then proceeds through the end of the millennium until 2000 and 2003 when Johnny Cash dies.” 

Viewers will get to know around 80 principal characters and around 80 secondary characters throughout the documentary, including one of Haggard’s last interviews before he passed away on April 6, 2016. 

“You will become like family members and understand how the music evolved and hasn’t been the same since the beginning,” Burns said. 

Burns and his team of fellow producers and writers have been promoting their new work around the country. At the film’s heart are the stories of unforgettable songs and the artists who created them. 

The music is examined and portrayed to show the importance of the growth and how it has shaped what we see and listen to.  

“We’ve just been traveling around every corner of the country because of every corner of the country loves country music,” Burns said. “If you like Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift, we can tell you who their ancestors are and who the people were that inspired them and that’s the story that we well.”

The film premieres Sunday, September 15 through Wednesday, September 18, and Sunday, September 22 through Wednesday, September 25 at 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET. 

Nugesse Ghebrendrias
For the past three years, Nugesse has been a vital part of the Madera Tribune covering sports, news, entertainment and feature writing. Nugesse’s ability to interact with the community allows him to promote students, athletes and community members with fairness and objectivity. We are happy to have Nugesse join our team here at the Clovis Roundup.