One week ahead of the premiere of Country Music, the eight-part historical documentary by filmmaker Ken Burns, PBS will air Country Music: Live at the Ryman, A Concert Celebrating the Film by Ken Burns, an all-star celebration of the genre featuring performances by Vince Gill, Dierks Bentley, Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Kathy Mattea, Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakam and more. Hosted by the filmmaker, the concert touched on the many styles that have defined and propelled country music through the years, from old-time mountain melodies and bluegrass to outlaw country and the Nashville Sound.
Vince Gill, who sat in on guitar with the house band throughout the evening, also offered the most spine-chilling performance of the night with his take on Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” Before Whitney Houston’s powerhouse 1992 version of the ballad launched it into the stratosphere, Parton’s original recording was a bittersweet goodbye letter to her mentor, producer and singing partner Porter Wagoner as she left his syndicated TV series to start her solo career. In his rendition, Gill captures the tangled emotions of Parton’s original, adding his special brand of high-lonesome heartache. In 1995, Gill and Parton made history when their duet version of the song reached the Top 20. It was the third time Parton had charted with a different version of the same song and was Parton’s highest-charting single in four years.
Another of the show’s top-notch performances is Dierks Bentley’s lively version of the 1975 Waylon Jennings classic “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.” Bentley’s gritty, traditional vocals are fused with the classic tune’s country-rock elements and the performance is also highlighted by a guitar solo from Gill. Although Jennings and Bentley were generations apart, they shared a bit of history as Bentley is a native of Phoenix, Arizona, the same town where Jennings recorded his 1964 debut LP, Waylon at JDs. Jennings and his band, the Waylors, were the nightclub’s country-music house band at the time, playing upstairs while rock bands played downstairs.
Country Music: Live at the Ryman airs Sunday, September 8th, at 8:00 p.m ET on PBS. Country Music: A Film by Ken Burns premieres one week later, on September 15th.