CMT announced Wednesday that it has acquired exclusive broadcast rights for “Skyville Live,” an all-star concert series bringing together artists from the rock and pop worlds as well as the country and America that are the cable channel’s bread-and-butter.
The Viacom network will premiere the series with the Jan. 19 broadcast of “Skyville Live: Kris Kristofferson & Friends,” which has the venerable singer-actor joined by Jason Isbell, Brandy Clark, Lady A and Raul Malo of the Mavericks. Second up on the agenda Feb. 17 will be “Midnight Train to Georgia: Gladys Knight & Guests,” with the R&B-pop legend bringing in Martina McBride and Estelle.
Among the hour-long specials coming up down the pike as part of the series is a salute to Gregg Allman, including the late frontman of the Allman Brothers Band himself. Allman died in May 2017, so that is a bit of a tipoff to the vintage of the shows, which began airing in 2015 as a digital-only series. Episodes previously aired only on Verizon’s Go90 and the Skyville Live website as one-time-only livestream presentations. CMT is editing those longer webcasts down to an hour each and repackaging them for their television debuts, in partnership with Believe Entertainment Group.
“Live music is the heart and soul of CMT and we’re so excited to bring this concert series to television,” said Margaret Comeaux, VP of production, music & events for CMT. “From Kris Kristofferson, Graham Nash and the late Gregg Allman to Gladys Knight, Emmylou Harris and Cyndi Lauper, ‘Skyville Live’ showcases some of the greatest names in music, making it an excellent addition to CMT’s expansive live music library.”
Beyond the Kristofferson, Knight and Allman salutes, “Skyville Live” specials earmarked for later in 2021 include shows featuring Cyndi Lauper, Graham Nash, Emmylou Harris and a salute to Jerry Lee Lewis.
The shows were all captured in a private club-type warehouse setting in Nashville with an intimate audience of about 250, and were the brainchild of Skyville Music co-owner Wally Wilson, who started the all-star jams before cameras were in place and sought to bring the chummy shows to a wide audience.
“Skyville Live” bears at least fleeting resemblance to CMT’s flagship music series, “CMT Crossroads,” which has country stars joined by their contemporaries from other genres. But “Skyville Line” doesn’t have the same genre-crossing high concept — the lineups are only partly anchored by country artists, and some of the specials have stars joined by unlikely guests from disparate other genres while others, like the Kristofferson salute, skew closer to an honoree’s core format.
In 2016, the webcasts caught the attention of industry blogger Bob Lefsetz, who lamented the lack of wider distribution for the digital series — “No one’s ever heard of it” — and heralded tChris Stapleton’s version of “Whipping Post” on the Allman special. Lefsetz enthused, “This is better than any Grammy performance, better than almost all of the Kennedy Center Honors. You get the feeling you’re at a rehearsal of people who did not get the memo, who did not hear that all the money is in banking and tech, who think pushing limits based on their talents is everything in life. Screw those Grammy moments, faux greatness that leaves us with the blahs. Rather on “Skyville Live” it’s all about focusing on playing as opposed to image, after all music is something you HEAR first and foremost. It’s about a great tune, with great musicians locking on to it, all in service to the song.”