Four or five decades ago, bluegrass and country music could be found on television almost every night of the week. From Flatt and Scruggs’ Ballad of Jed Clampett to country music stars caught in Boss Hogg’s speed traps on The Dukes of Hazzard, fans loved rural humor and good picking. In more recent times, however, major networks have shied away from down-home shows or those featuring more traditional types of music.
One exception (in a way) is the popular show Nashville, which follows the musical careers and personal drama of country artists at various levels of success. Although its focus is generally on the more radio-friendly forms of country music, several bluegrass and Americana artists have made guest appearances on the show. And now, thanks to its popularity (it’s in its fifth season and has made a measurable impact on tourism to its namesake city), Ryman Hospitality Properties, the company that underwrites the show, is considering expanding its country-themed offerings to focus on lighter, more humorous fare.
According to Ryman CEO Colin Reed, the company is exploring a revamp of Hee Haw, the long-running variety show that featured humorists and musicians like Grandpa Jones, Minnie Pearl, Buck Owens, and Roy Clark. At an event for Nashville Business Journal last week, he told the audience that “We think humor around country [music] is a good thing. We want to be in the content-distribution business and communicate country music and humor to people who don’t see this stuff.” The company hopes that the show would continue to grow Nashville tourism and the country lifestyle industry.
Hee Haw was canceled in the early nineties, though reruns have aired on RFD-TV since 2008. Surviving cast members filmed a tribute episode of Country’s Family Reunion, which also airs on RFD, several years ago, as well. In its heyday, Hee Haw embraced traditional music while still drawing a large, nationwide following, so will this be a chance for bluegrass to shine on a national stage? Or will Ryman follow in Nashville’s footsteps and spotlight the glossier side of country? It will certainly be interesting to see where this leads, especially with humorous acts like The Cleverlys and The Darrell Brothers drawing attention in the bluegrass world.