Immerse yourself in Nashville music history at Ragan’s Employee Experience Conference

Nashville musician, entertainer and educator Gary Jenkins takes us back for a musical history lesson this August.

Moseying  down Nashville’s famed Broadway strip, you might not see the same spread of old-time country music bars, clubs and honkytonks that first earned it the moniker “Music City.”  But amid the modern-country glitz, you can still find the city’s roots if you look hard enough. Robert’s Western World still earns its title of “Honky Tonk Heaven,” while The Ryman Auditorium still hosts great performances from country’s modern stars as the standards and expectations of what the genre means (and who is invited to the stage) continue to evolve.

Nashville musician, entertainer and educator Gary Jenkins understands this evolution better than most. He’ll take us back for a musical history lesson during a lunchtime set at Ragan’s Employee Experience Conference, going down in Nashville this August.

Jenkin’s experience is informed by a true love for the country genre and optimism for where it’s headed.

“We all romanticize the era that we’re familiar with,” Jenkins says, “even when it’s constantly changing. I’ll be hitting the high points with humor.”

Jenkins grew up in Florence, Ala., a couple of hours from Memphis and a couple of hours from Nashville near the famed hotspot for southern soul recording artists, Muscle Shoals. His dad lived next door to Norbert Putnam who played bass for Elvis, while legendary Tennessee label Sun Records was worshipped in his home alongside rockabilly music.

Playing music as a kid eventually drew Jenkins to Nashville, where he felt the call to become a historical entertainer as the city and community continued to change its relationship with the country, rock ’n’ roll and blues genres.

At Ragan’s Employee Experience Conference, Jenkins will go through the history of country music — including the influence that African American culture had on the genre that also birthed Black country luminaries like Charley Pride and Linda Martell, and more recently Beyoncé, Rhiannon Giddens and Lil Nas X.

“I played this huge show at the Country Music Hall of Fame and we played ‘Old Town Road’ when Shaquille O’Neal walked out on the show and played it with me,” he remembered.

As Jenkins casually rattles off countless incredible stories, his love of the genre becomes infectious.

His perspective on how the genre is slowly changing to embrace new audiences, meanwhile, mirrors the needs of communicators to grow and meet the needs of shifting stakeholder sets.

“I did a show where I portrayed Dewey Philips, this DJ who started playing Elvis before anyone else,” Jenkins remembered.

“When they would play him on the radio, the way they would let people know he was white is by saying where he went to high school. The level of tension, subtle and not subtle weirdness that went on is bizarre. It’s fascinating to watch, but the country music industry has got to change or become irrelevant.”

Don’t miss Jenkins’ educational and entertaining performance at Ragan’s 2024 Employee Experience Conference, Aug. 12-14 in Nashville.

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