The Hayloft Gang

by Stephen Parry


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Narrated by Garrison Keillor, The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance is a one – hour documentary that tells the story of a changing America, through the lens of one of early radio's most popular and influential programs. The film’s lively soundtrack features over 70 songs, spanning from the mid 1920s to the Great Depression, through World War II. The radio show was a melting pot of Americana music; listeners could hear everything from mountain string bands and polka trios, to folk balladeers and cowboy crooners.

For rural listeners unsure of the future, or homesick transplants confronting the city, The National Barn Dance served as a touchstone, from its first broadcast in 1924 to its last in 1960. Preceding the success of the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, by nearly two decades, The National Barn Dance made Chicago the capital of country music prior to World War II. The radio program was a marketing pioneer, making millions for network sponsors like Alka Seltzer. Moreover, it launched the careers of matinee idols, national radio queens, and cowboy’s sweethearts.

 I began work on The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance in 2003. The production process for this film has been an incredible learning experience, and a period of tremendous growth for me as a filmmaker.  This was truly a labor of love, taking on the challenge of pulling together a story that spanned 50 years, and clearing rights for a program that had wall-to-wall music and archival materials, combined with the struggles of raising funds for an independent film.  We’re grateful to have received production funding from The National Endowment for the Arts and ITVS, along with other arts, humanities and foundation support, but with recent cutbacks in arts funding, this just hasn't been enough.

 Our goal has always been to bring The Hayloft Gang to the widest, most diverse audience possible; it needs to be used in schools and libraries and available to the general public. Unfortunately our production funding only covers the costs for licensing the music for public television broadcast. We have to pay the music publishers and record companies for the additional rights for DVD and digital media distribution.

 Please help us to complete the final phase of this important media project. Your tax-deductible donation will bring the music and folk culture of this forgotten era of barn dance radio to new and diverse audiences. Your support will ensure that The Hayloft Gang documentary lives on for future generations to understand and appreciate this important untold chapter in American music and popular culture.  If we are fortunate to go beyond our minimum funding goal, these dollars will be used for development of a teacher's study guide and enhanced DVD content, allowing The Hayloft Gang to reach even wider audiences. 

Match Funds are not currently available.

Previous donations matched by:

    • May 08, 2013 Phillip Wells Community Member

      I'd prefer the CD version of the selected music from the project.

    • December 31, 2012 Jane Frost Community Member

      I love the way the book came together and look forward to the documentary.

      • January 03, 2013 Stephen Parry Artist

        Hi Jane, Thanks for writing. We are very proud of the documentary, and can't wait until we can get the film out to schools and libraries and to the general public on DVD and digital media. By the way, great photo of you and Patsy Montana! I wish I could have met her in person. Stephen Parry Producer: The Hayloft Gang

    • December 30, 2012 Stephen Parry Artist

      Only 1 Day Left! I want to extend my personal thanks to everyone who has supported The Hayloft Gang. It really has been overwhelming. Thank you for believing in this project! We are close to reaching our minimum funding goal, but we need to keep going. We would love to include lots of DVD Extras, such as performances, and interviews that did not make the 56 minute PBS cut. We have some great material that would really enhance the educational program. But we need to go beyond our minimum funding goal to achieve this. Please support THe Hayloft Gang Today. You only have until 12:59 PM, Monday, December 31st to make your Tax Deductible donation. Happy New Year! Stephen Parry - Producer: The Hayloft Gang

      • December 31, 2012 Jane Frost Community Member

        Steve, you've done a fabulous job with the book and I am quite anxious to see the documentary. Congratulations for a job well done. Patsy would have been so proud to be a part of this.

    • December 29, 2012 Stephen Parry Artist

      We're almost there! Our campaign ends in 2 days. If we don't reach our goal, we get nothing. Please make your Tax Deductible donation to The Hayloft Gang project today. We can make this happen with your help. Please spread the word. Thanks to everyone who as offered there support. We couldn't do it without you! I hope we can bring The Hayloft Gang to schools and beyond in 2013 Happy New Year to everyone! Stephen Parry - Producer: The Hayloft Gang

    • December 21, 2012 Stephen Parry Artist

      DOUBLE THE IMPACT OF YOUR GIFT! Right now is the perfect time to make your tax deductible donation to The Hayloft Gang. Matching Funds are now available. This means that your donation will be matched, $1 to $1 up to $1,000. You can also receive double the perk level for your support (so for example if you donate $25 you can receive the $50 perk level!).

    • December 21, 2012 Stephen Parry Artist

      We always love to hear from fans of The National Barn Dance. Here are some rememberances from a former listener and we're happy to say a supporter of The Hayloft Gang on USA Projects, Ron Bleed I remember the National Barn Dance (NBD) with fond nostalgia. I was born in 1943 in Rockford Illinois which is near Chicago. I became a fan at a very young age. I began to listen to the show in the late forties with my family. I was very fortunate to attend a show at the Eighth St. Theater in 1950. My Uncle Ted purchased tickets for my parents and me. It was probably the first entertainment event that required tickets that my parents ever attended. Even at the age of seven I still remember the colorful stage with the multitude of performers. I was hooked on the NBD and continue to listen through the 50’s and even the performances on WGN in the 60’s. I remember visiting another uncle’s home and discovered the NBD album beside his radio. I was mesmerized as learned more about each performer. I could not put it down until I read it from cover to cover. Lulu Belle and Scotty were my favorite performers and felt betrayed when they retired to North Carolina. I probably had a young boy’s crush on Lulu Belle. My other favorite performers were Homer and Jethro, Bob Atcher, Arkie the Arkansas woodchopper, Dolph Hewitt, Grace Wilson, and Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers. I must confess that I was a member of the evil empire that destroyed the WLS NBD. In 1960 while a high schooler I became enamored with rock n roll. I listened to Dick Biondi every night at 9:00 pm on WLS with a transistor radio next to my ear so my parents couldn’t hear this music. I returned to country music during my college years and dropped rock n roll with the British invasion. (I also supported another one of the competitors. I have attended the Grand Ole Opry many times and as recently as two weeks ago.) I really enjoyed the PBS video by Steve Parry on the Hayloft Gang and the book edited by Chad Berry. The cultural and sociological aspects of this entertainment group match many of the parts of my background. As I now reminisce about my youth I have fond memories of my connections to the NBD Ron Bleed

    • November 23, 2012 Stephen Parry Artist

      Thanks to Rose and Judy Bezjak for supporting our project, and writing in and telling us of Rose's experience's listening to the WLS National Barn Dance back in the 1930s and 40's. Rose was a wonderful addition to the documentary, and gave us a first hand account of the magic and joy that the Barn Dance brought to folks. There are so few surviving listener's and performers. We are grateful to have captured many of these interviews for our film. We encourage other listeners, performers or their families to post your comments and stories.

    • November 21, 2012 Rose and Judy Bezjak Community Member

      My mother, Rose Bezjak, listened to the WLS Barn Dance on a Philco battery-powered radio from a farm in southern Illinois. Rural electrification was several years away so the battery from the farm truck was used to provide entertainment on the radio on Saturday nights. The Barn Dance provided a connection with the entertainers who were welcomed into the homes of listeners as though they were dearest friends. The entertainment from the WLS National Barn Dance saw my mother and her family through the hardships of the Great Depression and also through devastating personal losses of WWII. It was the one constant thing that my mother could hold onto. During my childhood I constantly heard my mother mention the WLS National Barn Dance as well as some of her favorite performers from that radio program. It was a great honor from Mr. Stephen Parry to ask my mother, Rose Bezjak, to participate in his wonderful documentary, "The Hayloft Gang".

    • November 15, 2012 Stephen Parry Artist

      Our USA Projects campaign is officially launched! Our sincere thanks and appreciation to our first donors for stepping up to the plate. Please understand that this is an All or Nothing Funding model. If we fail to reach our $20,000 funding goal the project gets nothing. but you get 100% of your pledge funds returned. Every donation counts no matter how small. The USA Projects platform is safe and secure, but we also give you the option of paying with a check or wire transfer. Please help us to spread the word about our project and encourage others to offer their support. With your help and support we will ensure that the legacy and music of The National Barn Dance will live on for future generations. Sincerely, Stephen Parry Producer: The Hayloft Gang