Rendering of The Roots Barn

One of the stories many in the Music City area have been looking forward to in 2022 was the return of Americana-centric variety show Music City Roots. Now, it appears that the program — at least in the format that has become much-loved since the show's launch in 2009 — will not be broadcasting from a new facility called The Roots Barn that is set to open in a Madison development called Madison Station in the spring.

Word went out late last night that MCR co-founder and executive producer John Walker had resigned from the project as well as its production and holding company Roots Productions LLC, citing creative differences. A note included in his tweet reads, “Fred Kennedy of The Roots Barn said, ‘This is a very amicable transition. We’re grateful for John’s passion, perseverance and leadership that brought us to this point.’ ”

This morning, Metro Councilmember Nancy VanReece, who’d been an early supporter of the project and later hired to work on it, published a blog post explaining that she had also resigned. A bit later, journalist Craig Havighurst — who has written for the Scene and was a longstanding part of the MCR team — published a story about the resignations on the website of Roots Radio WMOT 89.5. The Americana-centered FM station broadcasts from MTSU’s campus and had a production partnership with Music City Roots, and there is a disclosure noting both Havighurst’s and the station’s interest in the project. The piece includes a statement attributed to the now-former hosts and crew of Music City Roots that addresses the conflict:

“We are mystified and heart-broken to report that the investors behind the new Roots Barn in Madison TN have withdrawn their support from Music City Roots as we have known it. MCR co-founder and executive producer John Walker resigned on Nov. 11, citing ‘creative differences.’ The rest of our team was terminated or resigned on Nov. 12.

Between 2009 and 2018, MCR produced 44 shows a year at the Loveless Cafe and the Factory in Franklin. We sought to be curators for roots music and good global ambassadors for Nashville. We brought old school broadcasting values and a taste of Nashville history to a modern, multi-media distribution system that included a rich partnership with WMOT and MTSU, as well as webcasting, syndicated radio, a podcast, a successful YouTube channel, and five seasons on the American Public Television network. We developed productive sponsorships, thematic shows, and a network of mutual benefit among bands, brands, and fans. We made community and family. To all those who ever played our stage, helped our operations, volunteered, partnered with us, bought merch and otherwise supported the show, we extend our most profound thanks.

We don’t know whether the owners of the Barn intend to produce a show called ‘Music City Roots.’ While they can legally do so, it would not include any of the producers, hosts or history of the MCR we built and love.

As for John Walker, we salute his tenacity, his loyalty, his imagination and his high standards as he’s led us and kept our dream alive. He managed this entire process in good faith. We pray his vision and passion for great music and culture-making can find a rewarding outlet in the future.”

This is the second time since leaving The Factory at Franklin at the end of 2017 that MCR has run into a roadblock — the show’s previous partnership with the 6th and Peabody development in SoBro didn’t pan out. The program grew surely and steadily over its initial run, serving as a platform for outstanding performances from rising stars like St. Paul and the Broken Bones and seasoned veterans like Jim Lauderdale. If you didn’t catch it in person, you could tune in on your radio or maybe catch a rerun on our PBS affiliate WNPT — a rare low-barrier to entry in a hyperconnected time. In a town that prides itself on its singer-songwriters enough to make room for them in the airport, the impact of the apparent loss of Music City Roots is tough to overstate.

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