"On a highway not far from where you live, a solitary musician with a guitar and a box of CDs is driving to another gig. No tour bus, no band, no road manager, no crew: just a need to make music and a bag full of songs based on hard-lived experience.
Tonight, in a bar or a coffeehouse or a church basement or somebody's house, the troubadour will share those songs with a room full of people. He or she will crack some jokes, tell some stories about how those songs came about, and sell some CDs to the newly converted at the end of the night.
A round of goodbyes, a night in a spare bedroom or a cheap motel, and it's time for another drive to another town and another room full of people."
And with that simple preamble, premise, introduction and truth, a man of many hats from the town of Pittsburgh in the state Pennsylvania from the country of America named Tom Weber has spent the past ten years putting together a documentary called Troubadour Blues. He was kind enough a while ago to pack up a dvd and send it to me, and it sat on my desk waiting for insertion and viewing which I started to do twice with failure because of interruptions, and so it was that this past Friday the alignment of stars and planets allowed me the pleasure of seeing probably the best representation and explanation of why otherwise intelligent and artistic people would want to spend their lives driving across the country and world, playing their songs for coins, paper and maybe a meal and a drink, to people who listened and loved and than went back home a bit better for the experience and maybe carrying a disc or two to play or share. And the troubadour would move on to the next town or hamlet, to a java joint or house concert, to a church or small town library, a festival or club.
Should you be a lover of music, especially the kind written and performed by that solitary woman or man, usually with just a guitar or sometimes with additional instrumentation and harmony...a lover of songs where the words mean something...a lover of spending nights sitting in front of a raised platform listening to tall tales and short stories...a lover of laughter and intimacy....this film is for you.
"Troubadour Blues is the story of modern-day wandering minstrels who ply their trade outside the media spotlight and far from the glitzy world of pop stardom. They are contemporary equivalents of the medieval troubadours who brought the news from village to village, or the itinerant bluesmen and folksingers who hopped freight trains and hitched rides across Depression-era America."
That Tom Weber has spent ten years of his time and energy to craft this ninety-five minutes of joy, theater and education for those of us who give not a moments thought to how and why this troubadour stands before us, and who used Kickstarter to raise the dough to get this out before the public, is an exceptional story unto itself.
"Troubadour Blues is not a who’s who of singer-songwriters. I’m interested in what drives artists to pursue their artistic dreams over the long haul, not in who is the most popular or sells the most records. I met the artists one at a time, got to know them for a while, and asked if they would introduce me to other artists. Sometimes these introductions took place in person, sometimes by phone or e-mail, and sometimes by chance encounter."
While the song is the star of this film, it is Peter Case who is the central figure that the camera seems to follow the most. I own Peter's discs, listen to him quite a bit and knew not a stitch other than the Plimsoul thing, the heart problem in 2009 and his lack of health insurance (I was among many who contributed some green to keep the ticker ticking) and subsequent recovery. Never seen him live, never heard him talk. And that is one of the blessings that the film brings us...it takes a two dimension relationship that we have with a likable performer and adds that something extra to help flesh out and humanize them. You walk away learning something, and not just filling up space. No ma, this ain't no lighthearted comedy film or humpty-dumpty sitcom.
That there is a real similarity (at least for me) while watching Troubadour Blues to that first fifteen or twenty minutes of meeting Jeff Bridge's character Otis "Bad" Blake in Crazy Heart, at least until Maggie Gyllenhaal makes her way onto the screen and it dissolves into yet another Hollywood alpha-male masturbatory-story. I think it was Gurf Morlix, or I could be wrong...don't really matter...who makes this striking point about what the real job of a troubadour today is. You're just a driver. You're in the car for eight or ten hours, driving from the last gig to the next, just to get up on stage and sing your songs for sixty minutes or more, make nice-nice to the folks at the merch table in the hope of selling a disc or a shirt, maybe making a friend, and than you do it all over again after crashing on a strangers couch or laying on a mattress in a cheap no-tell motel in your socks and jeans as if that'll protect you from the bugs and dirt and DNA only to be seen with an ultra violet light.
I guess I should take a moment and tell you who all is in this film besides Peter Case and Gurf Morlix. I'll probably leave someone or two out...you get what you pay for. Chris Smither, Mark Erelli (looks younger than I thought he was), Dave Alvin (looks older...), Slaid Cleaves, Mary Gautier (her words about the late Dave Carter will give you that lump in your throat), Troy Campbell, Sam Baker (best hair of the bunch), Amy Speace, Karl Mullen, Garrison Starr, RB Morris, Anne McCue (she takes my breath away, that she does), Jeff Talmadge and Tracy Grammer.
Don't know about y'all, but that right there represents a major percentage of the music I listen to on a daily basis.
Let me tell you how this stuff works. Tom put his heart and soul into this film, and it debuted at the Buffalo (NY) Film Festival on October 14, and then there was a showing in his hometown of Pittsburgh on October 25. He'll be looking to screen this at local music venues, possibly where some of these troubadours are playing. Maybe he'll show it at some more festivals, and maybe not.
So here's the real deal....AND LISTEN TO ME...you might read this post, make a mental note that you'll see this film if it comes around to your neck of the woods, you'll click over to HuffPo for today's news, check your Facebook page, pay a bill and see what Kim and Kris are up to on TMZ. And you will NOT EVER remember Troubadour Blues. Ya' pinheads.
No, no, no, no and no. If you are a No Dep reader or voyeur, a poster or a lurker, if you love Ryan Adams but are lukewarm to Ha Ha Tonka, it don't matter one little kidney bean. You need to get this film and not wait another sec. And I'm going to make it very, very easy for you.
CLICK HERE...go ahead, just eff-ing do it. Order a copy of the DVD for yourself. Order another for a friend. There's a holiday season upon us...you know, makes a great gift. I don't know Tom, never met Peter, have no skin in this game. But I think this is something you need to see, and I'm going to ask you to trust me on it. It'll enhance your experience the next time you go out for a show because behind the beats, there are real people giving up stability and walking on the tight rope of life, so you can have a brighter ninety minutes in your life.
And they ain't troubadours, they are the warriors for your soul. Support Tom, and support the musicians. And if I was an alien, I'd give it three thumbs up.
Here's a special treat...ain't in the movie...this was given to people who donated to Kickstarter. Enjoy.