Announcing Our National Television Roll-out.
Folks, this is a special post from the home front. Tomorrow we’re going public with some exciting news, and we wanted you to read it first here. You may be aware that we’ve been producing a televised series of Music City Roots: Live From The Loveless Cafe, and now it’s official. Our inaugural 13-week season of one-hour shows will premiere on Nashville Public Television on Friday, Sept. 13 at 7 pm central time. Soon after that, the series will air on dozens of public television stations around the country, distributed by American Public Television.
In the initial round of commitments, Music City Roots got green lights from marquee broadcasters including WNET in New York, WGBH in Boston and KLRU in Austin plus stations in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Cincinnati and Washington DC to name just a few. I’m told that already we’re set to be available in more than 60% of U.S. households, with more expected.
We’ve had our heads, hearts, eyes and ears buried in this project for so long that it’s hard to fully grasp how exciting this is. And not just for us.
Our aim has been to share Nashville’s vibrant music scene with the nation and the world. We all know that Nashville’s chief export in terms of size and dollars generated has been and remains country music. But there’s no question in our minds that while Nashville is obviously an all genres Music City, its most artistically rich and independent sector is Americana. The rock scene is exciting and new (albeit with some important antecedents going back 30 years). But the cultural heft and depth of today’s Music City stems from the likes of Buddy Miller, Shawn Camp, Elizabeth Cook, 18 South, Bobby Bare, Humming House, Derek Hoke, Rod Picott, Kevin Gordon, Leon Russell, Honeyhoney, Langhorne Slim, Della Mae, The Delta Saints, Jon Byrd and Dugas, to name a few. All appear in Season One of MCR on public television. And of course Mr. Americana, Jim Lauderdale, is our musical host and appears in nearly every episode.
Until now, the conventional wisdom in Nashvegas has been that “lesser known” artists like these could only be shown on TV in collaboration with a “star” to ensure ratings, etc. Decisions about who gets seen and heard have been made according to Q Scores rather than innate artistic value and integrity. Well that old world is now being swept away. And seriously, to hell with it. We’re presenting our artists with no apologies or crutches. They play on their own terms, doing what they do for an appreciative audience. You may not know them going in, but you’ll know them by the end. It’s music as it was for thousands of years before suits and bean counters got hold of it – a social, emotional experience.
Some time ago, our co-founder John Walker wrote about the spiritual origins of the show and the shared dream of all of us involved in it: “(It was a) dream that didn’t start with money as the primary focus. A dream where musical history and heritage would be honored and esteemed, yet the innovators and rule breakers would be equally respected. A dream that encouraged cross-pollination and impartation between these factions. Why? Because they understand that today’s historic icons were yesterday’s rebels and outlaws. And they understand that many of those now historic icons were not celebrated at first, but rather despised and rejected.”
At a more basic level, Nashville hasn’t had a national broadcast platform for its full compliment of musical creativity at least since TNN was dismantled by legacy media giant Viacom. And maybe even before that, because TNN’s programming became quite affixed to mainstream country and older audiences through the 1990s. We’ve strived, for the sake of the city and the artists therein, for a show that is a trustworthy one-stop for the coolest, the newest and the richest. We can’t count the number of times we’ve heard fans, friends and colleagues wish for an “Austin City Limits of Nashville.” And while that would be too simplistic a description of what we’re doing with our public television series, it’s probably the best elevator pitch if you had time only to ride one floor.
It will be interesting to see what the powers that be - on Music Row, at the Convention And Visitors Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, the Music Council, Leadership Music, The Country Music Hall of Fame, the Mayor’s office and the news media – have to say about the national television roll-out of Music City Roots. In my personal estimation, most of those entities have treated Americana music negligently over the past 15 years, because it didn’t seem as popular or as lucrative as commercial country music. Nor does that seem to have shifted much even as bands like Old Crow Medicine Show, Mumford & Sons and Yonder Mountain String Band have grown to arena level and generated hit songs. I am astonished at the low awareness level about Music City Roots among some music industry figures who are supposed to have their finger on the pulse of our city, even as the founders of the show have, over three and a half years, invested really significant sums in this new brand and business vision, all designed to enhance the living legacy of Nashville that other entities in town claim to nurture and cherish. Of course, many of those same people have disdain for the ethos and reach of public broadcasting, so maybe we’ll never impress them. But for music lovers and believers in culture and the creative life around the nation, we’ll be there in a bigger way than ever before.
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