Wednesday, October 10, 2012

DVD Review "Ballads, Blues & Bluegrass” a film by Alan Lomax

Ballads-Blues-&-BluegrassBallads Blues & Bluegrass

This film debuted at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival on Tuesday, June 19, at the Grammy Museum. It’s a gem for music lovers, especially if you have a yen for a little music history. Back in the early ‘60s, Greenwich Village was the happening place, experiencing a revival of American Folk Music consisting of, as the title suggests, Premiere of Ballads, Blues, and Bluegrass and no little influence and presence of jazz.

An organization called the Friends of Old Time Music (founded by Ralph Rinzler, Izzy Young, and John Cohen) made it their mission to introduce New York City audiences to some of the era's best folk, blues, and bluegrass performers. After the first two F.O.T.M. concerts in early 1961 (featuring Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley, and Doc Watson), Alan Lomax invited the artists and a who's who of the folk revival back to his West Third Street apartment for an impromptu song-swap. That’s the birth-place of this charming, informative and, incidentally, musical treat.

Filming was arranged on the fly, but a raw, many-layered evocation of the art and attitude of the period emerges from the footage, with some of the biggest names of the era, old-timers and revivalists alike: Holcomb, Ashley, Watson, Gaither Carlton, Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, Jean Ritchie, Ernie Marrs, Peter LaFarge, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, the Greenbriar Boys, and the New Lost City Ramblers. The footage of Doc Watson is his first known film appearance.

Doc Watsons and Clarence Ashley

About the time this film was made, a young man from Minnesota came to town, and he’d soon take Greenwich Village, and the world by storm. The young man was Bob Dylan. In the film, you’ll hear a number of songs that inspired Dylan, as well as a few (Ira Hayes) that he recorded. Dylan idolized, and hung out with Doc Watson, Rambli'n’ Jack Elliot and a few others that don’t appear in the film, but were part of that folk revival.

John Bishop restored the original film and filmed new interviews with cinematographer George Pickow and the New Lost City Ramblers' John Cohen, reflecting on the film in 2010.

The Association for Cultural Equity made the film possible and has promoted it as well as staging the premier. Media Generation was responsible for putting it on DVD for our enjoyment, and not a small bit of enlightenment.  Be sure to check out their web site (follow the link) as they have a treasure trove of Award winning DVDs in folklore, anthropology, music and dance. Be sure to visit the L.A. Film Fest site as well, as they have info on the film, as well as other films you won’t see in your local Multiplex. Culture events like these are important to our collective American history and heritage.

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Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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