For more than five months in 1978, many of country music's greatest stars gathered at the Grand Ole Opry House for a special celebration. With cameras rolling, the festive occasion was the commemoration of country music's 50th anniversary.
To mark the occasion, a gala television special was produced and aired. Then the footage disappeared.
Some seven hours of music and celebration were captured on film in an economical and democratic fashion. In an attempt to be both fair and topical, there was no primary host or central act. Instead, what was filmed was rotating interviewers and multiple groups selected, with the show designed to cover the entire scope of country music.
Fortunately the footage was preserved, and now, thanks to the work of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, people who weren't gathered around a television set 32 years ago — along with others who may have long since forgotten about them — can view them again.
Country's Greatest Stars Live, Vols. 1 & 2 (Shout! Factory) is being released on Jan 26 on separate volumes. Each volume is a two-DVD package, and together they contain many performances from that epic showcase of country's roots and styles.
The opening three hours (featured in Vol. 1) were co-hosted by Glen Campbell, Roy Clark and Dolly Parton. The performers included Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys, Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff and Kitty Wells.
Volume 1 also has a wonderful collaboration between Merle Haggard & Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, and equally powerful contributions from the Earl Scruggs Revue, Mel Tillis, the Statler Brothers, Ray Charles and Tammy Wynette.
The final four hours (presented in Vol. 2) switched hosts, with Eddy Arnold, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Crystal Gayle and Charley Pride introducing segments and interviewing performers.
There were more legends that followed (Bill Anderson, Roger Miller, Ray Price, Don Gibson, Roger Miller, Dottie West, Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass, Jimmie Davis, Jim Ed Brown, Jimmy Dean) along with newer stars (at that time) such as the Charlie Daniels Band, Eddie Rabbitt, Jeannie C. Riley, Freddy Fender and Gary Stewart.
There were also representatives from Western Swing (Asleep At The Wheel) and pre-rock pop stars with country credentials (Patti Page).
Superbly engineered and filmed (they're part of the Joe Gates Collection housed at the Country Music Foundation), these four DVDs provide a window in country's past and present.
More than that, Country's Greatest Stars Live, Vols. 1 & 2 also gives fans a series of marvelous, rarely seen performances that provided a window into country music’s future — numbers from many participants who today are part of country royalty.