The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance

The National Barn Dance has unified rural Americans with traditional folk music and country humor throughout decades.

Film Signature Image
PBS Plus Presentation
Premiere Date
September 1, 2011
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call

Stephen Parry

Stephen Parry's passion for early country and bluegrass music led him to create The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance. Stephen has a background with over 25 years of experience in broadcast and corporate media production. His documentary Down on the Farm followed two farm families in Indiana over a period of a year. Old Friends examined Show more historical preservation efforts in Midwest communities. Discover Bluegrass: Exploring American Roots Music gives elementary school students a greater understanding and appreciation for bluegrass music and its contribution to American culture. Parry has been a presenter at the International Country Music Conference in Nashville and at Brown University. Show less


Bob Hercules

Bob Hercules’ work includes Bill T. Jones: A Good Man and Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, both of which aired on PBS’s American Masters series. A Good Man was an official selection at Full Frame, IDFA, Silverdocs, DOXA, and many other festivals. Joffrey was the opening night film at the Dance on Camera Film Festival at Lincoln Center in 2012 and the Show more closing night film at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. His 2006 film, Forgiving Dr. Mengele, was shown at film festivals around the world and won the Special Jury Prize at the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival. Show less

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The Film

Narrated by Garrison Keillor, The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance tells the story of a changing America through the lens of one of the nation's most popular country music radio shows during the 1930s and 40s: the National Barn Dance.

Broadcast every Saturday night on WLS-AM out of Chicago, the variety show unified rural Americans with its nostalgic brand of traditional folk music and country humor, and helped define an identity for a struggling generation. From its first broadcast in 1924 to its last in 1960, the National Barn Dance served as a touchstone for rural citizens unsure of the future, or homesick transplants confronting the city.

In finding and serving this newfound audience, the National Barn Dance was a marketing pioneer, making millions for sponsors like Alka Seltzer. Moreover, it launched national superstars such as Gene Autry, Patsy Montana, Bradley Kincaid, Andy Williams, George Gobel, Pat Buttram, and Lulu Belle & Scotty.The Hayloft Gang weaves rare performance footage, home movies, and candid photographs with first-hand accounts from fans and performers. In addition, interviews with historians, folklorists, and media experts reveal historical and cultural perspectives on the story.