Years before Katniss Everdeen became the bow-wielding, redneck antihero of impoverished coal-mining District 12, there was another — Lucy Gray Baird. In the new movie adaption of the dystopian prequel to the original Hunger Games trilogy, Baird must brave the deadly annual games as well as future-President Coriolanus Snow’s affections.
If it sounds like the makings of a country murder ballad, well, you’d not be far off. Aside from being a multi-million dollar blockbuster event, the new film, officially titled The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, features an excellent original soundtrack produced by Dave Cobb and chock-full of BGS Friends and Neighbors we know and love. The rootsy songs are the perfect backdrop for boot-stomping bar scenes and the desperate struggle against an authoritarian regime that eventually led to the villainous Snow’s power grab. They’re also just plain good!
If you’re new to the Hunger Games, to these artists, or to roots music, we’re happy to be your guide. With performances from Molly Tuttle, Billy Strings, Sierra Ferrell, Charles Wesley Godwin, Bella White, and more there’s something here for bluegrass and Americana fans of all ages. But there are also hidden gems in Rachel Zegler’s performance. Zegler, who portrays Baird, plays a guitar influenced by a very famous finger picker indeed.
In no particular order, here are six of the best roots tunes on the official Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes movie soundtrack.
“The Garden” – Sierra Ferrell
A slow-moving acoustic, country-ish standard with emotional fiddle swells, Americana firebrand Sierra Ferrell performs “The Garden” on the official soundtrack. The tune features a wistful dream of a green garden watered with something other than salty tears, and of better days ahead.
“Bury Me Beneath the Willow” – Molly Tuttle
Together, Molly Tuttle and Dominick Leslie provide the guitar and mandolin parts heard throughout much of the film, but also on “Bury Me Beneath the Willow.” This tune is more of a bluegrass standard and features Tuttle’s iconic picking style and vocals. The lyrics speak of deep betrayal by a lover.
“Nothing You Can Take From Me” – Rachel Zegler
In the official featurette video for this tune, Rachel Zegler whips a gathered crowd into a barn-stomping frenzy with her vocal performance on “Nothing You Can Take From Me.” While District 12 workers clap and dance and Zegler sings, Molly Tuttle revealed in an Instagram post that she provided the guitar parts.
“I played Lucy Gray Baird’s guitar parts and Dom [Leslie’s] parts are in the Covey Band,” Tuttle said in her Instagram caption. “I was nerding out the whole time we worked on this. Fun fact: the guitar I recorded with is the same one that you see [Zegler] play in the movie. The choice of guitar was inspired by the archtop Gibson that Maybelle Carter plays.”
“Burn Me Once” – Bella White
Bella White’s haunting, vibrato-filled vocals hang in the air on “Burn Me Once,” a finger-picked acoustic tune. The lyrics speak to being heartbroken and wishing for true love with a new, more mature partner.
“Cabin Song” – Billy Strings
By far one of the fastest, hardest-driving tunes comes – perhaps unsurprisingly – from Billy Strings. Employing his famous guitar-picking skills on “Cabin Song,” Strings sings of wishing to go back to the woods.
“Winter’s Come and Gone” – Charles Wesley Godwin
Seasonally appropriate given the movie’s November release date, Charles Wesley Godwin’s smooth but gritty vocals lends the perfect tinge of darkness to lyrics about a little bluebird, being left in the rain and snow, and not having enough money to see the winter through.
Even if you’re not a fan of The Hunger Games, it might be worth hitting up the theatre to support roots music featured in such a high-profile and recognizable title. Or, you know, you could just download, stream, or purchase the soundtrack — it’s available on Spotify, Apple Music, or wherever you get your folk-y tunes!
Lead image of Rachel Zegler as Lucy Baird screenshot from The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023) Special Feature ‘Music.’