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Premiering On PBS The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance

The Prairie Ramblers and Patsy Montana Courtesy of Michael MontanaSan Francisco -- Narrated by Garrison Keillor, The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance tells the story of a changing America through the lens of one of the nation's most popular country music radio shows during the 1930s and ‘40s: The National Barn Dance. The one-hour documentary weaves rare performance footage, home movies, and candid photographs with firsthand accounts from fans and performers. Interviews with historians, folklorists, and media experts reveal historical and cultural perspectives of this unique period in America’s history. Produced and directed by Stephen Parry with supervisory producer Bob Hercules, The Hayloft Gang begain airing on PBS nationwide September 1, 2011 (check local listings).

For rural citizens unsure of the future, or homesick transplants confronting the city, The National Barn Dance served as a touchstone, from its first broadcast in 1924 to its last in 1960. Reaching a national audience, the radio program served as a marketing pioneer, making millions for network sponsors like Alka Seltzer. Moreover, it launched national superstars such as Gene Autry, Patsy Montana, Bradley Kincaid, George Gobel, Pat Buttram, Andy Williams, and Lulu Belle and Scotty.

As the nation's most popular country music radio show during the 1930s and 1940s, The National Barn Dance essentially defined country and western entertainment until after World War II, when it was eclipsed by the Grand Ole’ Opry in Nashville.

On any given Saturday night, listeners could tune into The National Barn Dance and hear everything from a cowboy crooner to a barbershop quartet, from a hillbilly string band to a polka trio. The film uses musical performances and broadcast recordings to suggest the experience of listening to the live radio show, and brings out the personalities of key characters like Bradley Kincaid, Gene Autry, Pat Buttram, Lulu Belle and Scotty, Patsy Montana and the DeZurik sisters.

The Hayloft Gang weaves rare performance footage, home movies, and candid photographs with first hand accounts from fans and performers. Interviews with historians, folklorists, and media experts reveal historical and cultural perspectives on the story. Garrison Keillor’s voice-over narration conveys the cozy; “gather-’round” feel of an old-time radio show.

While relating the stories of The Hayloft Gang’s most compelling characters, the film is organized around the following key themes: the commercialization of local and regional culture; the conflict of an old agrarian America challenged by a new, heterogeneous, urban one; and, finally, what scholars call the “search for a usable past,” in which The National Barn Dance drew on a rural heritage to give solace to its audience in the face of the Great Depression and World War II. Within this social, cultural, and historical context, viewers gain a greater understanding of the significance and impact of The National Barn Dance, and its role in shaping American music and popular culture.

Follow updates on this program and read more about The Hayloft Gang and the National Barn Dance at http://www.hayloftgang.com/

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