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VOL. 37 | NO. 37 | Friday, September 13, 2013

‘Music City Roots’ makes national TV debut this week

By Tim Ghianni

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Buddy Miller (left) and Jim Lauderdale are in the spotlight during this week’s TV debut on PBS.

-- Photo By Anthony Scarlati Courtesy Of Music City Roots

Music fans – or just the curious – will have the opportunity to see what the weekly tune-filled ruckus behind the Loveless Café is all about at 7 p.m. Friday on WNPT (Channel 8).

That’s when the local channel – one of 71 public television stations nationwide that will broadcast 13 weekly installments of “Music City Roots: Live from the Loveless Café” – will air the debut of season one. Production is under way on season two.

The trimmed down episodes – each hour-long show will offer a sampler of the highlights from the normally 2½-plus-hour Wednesday concert – are scheduled for broadcast in markets large and small, from New York to Los Angeles to Bemidji, Minn., and even out in the west Texas town of El Paso.

Already 60 percent of all U.S. households will have access to the show, and more markets are expected to pick up the broadcast, executive producer Todd Mayo says.

The national telecasts – culled from the “Grand New Opry”-styled radio show’s wide spectrum of “Americana” acts -- are a big step for “Music City Roots,” which has been staging 44 shows a year (four 11-week seasons annually) from the Loveless Barn stage.

“It’s a musical revival at the edge of Music City on Wednesdays: Church night,” says Mayo, adding that spreading this particular musical gospel on public TV stations nationwide “is a big deal.”

“It’s like: ‘Hey, Nashville, Tennessee, is getting its own ‘Austin City Limits.’ We’ve been doing that four years, and now it’s official” because it’s being seen on national television.

While he’s not saying his show is the same as the venerable weekly showcase out of Austin, he does say “Roots” is doing for the capital of Tennessee what “Limits” has done for the state capital of Texas.

The show, in concept and content, helps expand the image of Nashville by eliminating the musical boundaries, making for a diverse, hipper image.

“Roots” not only offers exposure to the Americana genre (with its wild swings from Leon Russell to Darrell Scott to Robbie Fulks to Traffic’s Dave Mason to the Bobby Bares, junior and senior, and well beyond), the show is “rebranding what Music City is,” Mayo says.

Jim Lauderdale (center) hosts an episode of Music City Roots from the Loveless Barn. PBS will broadcast 13 weekly shows on 71 stations beginning this week.

-- Photo By Anthony Scarlati Courtesy Of Music City Roots

Yes, there are the iconic honky-tonks and boots and cowboy hats – all well-represented on “Roots” – but folk music, rock ’n’ roll, blues and a home brew of all flavors of music and temperament are showcased at the Loveless Barn.

“The first show is a wonderful example of what we do,” says Mayo, pondering what will be aired during the Friday night TV premiere.

“We have Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller, and they do cuts from their duo album. Then there’s 18 South, one of the greatest examples of a modern Nashville band; Shawn Camp, one of the greatest songwriters, and then there’s Mike Farris, who does great gospel soul,” he adds.

In addition to showcasing selections from the “Buddy & Jim” duets album, Lauderdale will appear in his regular capacity as affable host, while veteran radio voice Keith Bilbrey does the announcing chores.

Also appearing in each episode is Nashville journalist and avid fiddle fan Craig Havighurst, who interviews participants during set changes.

The shows in this 13-week season were recorded last November, December and January.

While the TV broadcast is a giant step to spreading the word about what’s happening in the barn out in Pasquo, barely tucked into the Davidson County limits and in the shadow of the Natchez Trace, it’s not the only big development for the show.

The show has spawned the “Roots Radio Hour,” hosted by Bilbrey and drawing from the archives of the Loveless performances, 7 to 8 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Thursday on Hippie Radio 94.5, which also is host to the live broadcasts on Wednesday nights.

The show also is webcast at livestsream.com/musiccityroots.

Bilbrey’s radio show will expand back to Friday nights when football season is over.

There’s also a free “Roots Radio” app available at iTunes that pulls tunes 24/7 from the weekly show’s library of past performances.

“Music City Roots” also is moving toward encompassing all corners of the state with regularly scheduled Thursday broadcast excursions.

There’s already “Scenic City Roots” on the first Thursday of each month in Chattanooga.

Soon the other Thursdays of the month will be filled with “Bristol City Roots,” “Scruffy City Roots” (Knoxville) and “Bluff City Roots” (Memphis.)

And then there are international missions. Last January, “Music City Roots” did a special broadcast from an Australian country music festival.

Mayo says the next year will include a visit to Belfast and perhaps one to Jamaica and beyond.

As the Tennessee shows will mix artists particular to those regions – bluegrass for example from Bristol and Sun Studio-flavored rockabilly in Memphis – with “Roots” regulars, the international shows are designed to showcase Nashville artists as well as similarly spirited souls from the host countries.

And while the actual Loveless performance takes place on Wednesday 43 weeks out of the year, it makes a one-week stop on next Thursday night during the Americana Music Association Festival & Conference.

Because the AMA awards are handed out on Wednesday, Music City Roots has its official AMA Showcase at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19.

As Mayo says, after detailing the chain of events in the ongoing life of his show: “There’s a lot going on.”

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