The Country Music Association has teamed up with Public Television's concert program Front and Center to bring a little more twang to the lauded performance show's fall lineup. Lady Antebellum and Dierks Bentley will kick off the ongoing partnership with two separate specials, leading into the broadcast of the 48th Annual CMA Awards this November. Both episodes will also be tied into the upcoming 10th Anniversary of CMA's Songwriter Series.
"County music can't get any hotter," CMA CEO Sarah Trahern tells Rolling Stone Country. "The fact that we can take two episodes of Front and Center this fall to the songwriter format is really key. I'm hopeful that these will be the first of an expanding partnership."
Both 55-minute special editions of Front and Center will emphasize the art and craft of country songwriting, as a nod to the Songwriter Series' anniversary, which was created by the CMA in 2005 to showcase all the faces – not just marquee names – behind the making of a hit.
For Lady Antebellum's episode, the group will play songs from their upcoming fifth album as well as some of their older hits, and showcase their signature harmonies, all while peppering the performance with conversations about the stories behind them. They'll be joined by some of the special guest songwriters who are currently working with the "Bartender"-singing trio on their new material.
Bentley's episode will feed specifically into the Songwriter Series' 10th anniversary, with the fresh from Bonnaroo singer appearing alongside co-writers Jim Beavers, Ross Copperman, Brett James and Jon Randall in a traditional round setting. Both will tape next week at Marathon Music Works in Nashville, to air in the fall on PBS.
"People might come in for Dierks and get hooked on the stories that Jon Randall tells," says Trahern. "That’s the magic."
The idea came to fruition when Don Maggi, executive producer of Front and Center, paid a visit to one of the Songwriter Sessions in New York City at Joe's Pub, featuring Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn alongside several songwriters. "Hearing the passion and the stories that surround [the songs] was something that captured us and, for lack of a better word, was so real," Maggi tells Rolling Stone Country. "That’s something that we always try to capture on Front and Center."
In an era when MTV has removed the "music" moniker from its brand and video countdowns are replaced by teen moms, Front and Center has been a lone wolf in the mission to bring more live performance programming to television. In its past two seasons, the PBS show has seen the likes of Jake Bugg, the Avett Brothers and Buddy Guy grace its intimate stages, during tapings across New York City. For the third season, the series has already snagged artists like Counting Crows, John Hiatt and Joe Satriani in addition to the Lady Antebellum and Bentley appearances.
These specials will be a part of an ongoing partnership between CMA and Front and Center, which aims to bring more country music programming to the series and its many platforms, such as digital and streaming.
"Country music is huge part of our culture and growing rapidly," Maggi says. "Its great songs and great musicians are something we want to be a part of. You almost wonder why you have to call it country music, or 'whatever' music – it's just great music."