Illinois Country: The Film
Illinois Country is a one-hour documentary from Illinois Public Media that tells the story of Illinois’ singular role in the history of country music in the United States. The film traces the progression of the genre from early gathering halls and small-town hoedowns, to The National Barn Dance in Chicago and Farm Aid in Champaign, and on to today’s Illinois-bred Grammy winners.
We meet Illinois natives such as Gene Autry sidekick Smiley Burnette and singer Jenny Lou Carson - both instrumental in making Illinois the first “capital of country music”. We travel to southern Illinois to hear the stories of John Hartford and Uncle Tupelo; and right here in central Illinois, we learn more about the recording pioneer Jerry Milam of Golden Voice Studios and the founders of Bloodshot Records - all of whom made remarkable contributions to the genre, sometimes changing it in controversial ways.
We take viewers into community hoedowns and local honkytonks for interviews with local “old-time” country music performers including Marvin Lee Flessner and others. Country music scholars Don Cusic, Dennis Stroughmatt, and Paul Tyler discuss country music’s common roots, shifting identity, and changing sound in the modern era. Finally, we hear from some Illinoisans who’ve made the “big time,” including David Lee Murphy, Robbie Fulks, Margo Price, Kendell Marvel, and more.
Shot over the course of a year, Illinois Country features an original song written, produced, and recorded exclusively for the documentary by five-time Grammy nominee Graham Edwards (Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber, Liz Phair) and renowned songwriter/producer John Pennell (Alison Krauss, Alan Jackson, Eva Cassidy). As the documentary unfolds, viewers will follow the making of the song from start to finish.
Illinois Country will air on public television stations throughout Illinois starting late 2019, after the release of the eight-part Country Music documentary from filmmaker Ken Burns in September.