Country, Western & Gospel Music

A History And Encyclopedia Of Composers, Artists & Songs

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cents to $1 to watch their favorite recording artists broad­cast. These are the only programs in the history of radio for which anybody has been willing to spend money to buy a seat. Among the most popular programs are WSM's "Grand Ole Opry," WLS' "National Barn Dance" from Chi­cago and WRVA's "Old Dominion Barn Dance" from Rich­mond. It was Barron Howard, producer of this latter pro­gram, and Jack Stone, a publicity man from Richmond, who conceived the idea of invading Broadway with a species of theatre that has proved so formidable in the outlands.
If the venture turned out to be the debacle it was, it is not because hillbilly music has qualities of naivete and sentimentality that offend sophisticated ears. It is because, with a few exceptions, the company of "Hayride" was com­posed of performers of the second and third rank in their own field—vocally and artistically. Then too, the producers of "Hayride" also made the mistake of calling it an Ameri­can folk music. The expression folk music conjures up visions of Alan Lomax recordings, for the Library of Con­gress, the untutored yawpings of po' white trash a-restin' after chasm* razorback hogs in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hillbilly music as it is performed to audiences of millions today, however, is a conscious, calculated form of commer­cial expression. The tunes are concocted by composers as shrewd and as aware of what they are about as Cole Porter or Irving Berlin. Although, for the purpose of atmosphere, the performers wear blue jeans, checked shirts and ging­ham frocks, they live with all the conveniences of modern life, including hydramatic convertibles, split-level ranch houses and anxiety neuroses. The levis and checked shirts are only a costume, like the original gewgaws that adorn the girls in "Kismet."
But I am afraid that "Hayride" made no new converts to the cause of corn-fed threnody because producers Howard and Stone used neither imagination nor skill in displaying their wares—and the wares were not of high quality to begin with. The setting was an amateurishly painted back­drop of a barn with a harvest moon, and it looked like something not even a self-respecting cat would drag into a theatre, even a Greenwich Village cat to an off-Broadway theatre.