Once known as “the P.T. Barnum of Country Music,” Carlton Haney played an important role in the popularization of bluegrass and country during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Raised in the North Carolina Piedmont, he largely avoided music until 1953, when he began dating Bill Monroe’s 16 year-old daughter. Monroe offered him a job as a booker and publicist, possibly to keep an eye on Haney while he courted his child, and Haney spent two years on the road with Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys before returning to North Carolina in September 1955. After booking local bands for several months, he moved north to Richmond, Virginia, to help revive the Old Dominion Barn Dance.
A weekly country music show and national radio broadcast, the Old Dominion Barn Dance had been the Virginian equivalent of the Grand Ole Opry for years, although changing trends in the music industry had begun to impact its popularity. Taking over the reins from former emcee Sunshine Sue, Haney moved the show from the Lyric Theater to the Bellevue Theater, a former movie palace in Richmond’s northside, and renamed it “The New Dominion Barn Dance.” From 1957 to its closing in 1964, the show featured performances from country stars like Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubb. Haney continued working as a booker for other artists, too, popularizing the concept of country music “package shows” that featured several popular artists.
Although he also published the national magazine Muleskinner News, managed Reno & Smiley for a decade, and wrote songs for several artists, Haney’s biggest claim to fame was inventing the bluegrass festival industry. After holding the genre’s first multi-day festival at a horse farm in Fincastle, Virginia, he began promoting other festivals as far north as Rhode Island. His work earned him a spot in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 1998. Haney died 13 years later, having suffered a stroke on March 3, 2011, and succumbing to its complications later that month.