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“Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’”: Ken Burns explains why ‘Country Music’ stops at 1996

PBSTonight, the epic Country Music documentary by filmmaker Ken Burns concludes on PBS. The final episode covers the years 1984 through 1996, and is titled “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’.”

If you’re wondering why the film stops without examining the past two decades, Burns says it’s something he thought through very carefully.

“1996 is the height of Garth Brooks‘ popularity,” Burns tells ABC Audio. “Bill Monroe also dies, who’s been an important character since the second episode…”

“And bluegrass is not given short shrift,” he adds. “It shapes and reshapes and shifts form…all throughout the series.”

Pivotal events also take place during that time for one of Country Music‘s central characters, the Man in Black.

“The last chapter is about…the last extraordinarily creative and productive years of Johnny Cash,” Burns explains. “The beginning of the last episode, he’s summarily fired by Columbia.”

“At the end, he has this resurrection,” Burns continues. “With whom? With Rick Rubin, a hip hop and rap producer. And in the end, he’s working with Trent Reznor on ‘Hurt.’ And then he dies in 2003. So that’s really where we stop.”

Burns sees Cash and The Carter Family as bookends for the series.

“It’s the grand parentheses,” he says. “We begin with The Carter Family, he marries into the Carter family. So when Johnny Cash passes from the scene, and…June Carter has just died a few months before, you’ve got a really manageable thing.” 

While Burns acknowledges that a wide range of artists from Toby Keith to the Dixie Chicks to Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift deserve to be included, he hopes viewers celebrate what they’ve added to Country Music, instead of arguing about the film.

If you’ve missed any episodes, you can catch up at PBS.org or via Amazon Prime Video.

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