Music and Film To Reel You In
Could be my imagination, but it sure seems as if lately we’ve been seeing a resurgence of interest in music documentaries. Thanks to both crowdfunding and an insatiable audience appetite, new features and shorts seem to be popping up like dandelions. With greater accessibility from sites such as Netflix or Amazon, PBS’s American Masters biographical series, and lots and lots on YouTube and various indie websites, there’s much to choose from. You may recall that this years Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature went to 20 Feet From Stardom, a wonderful and moving look into the world of backup singers. When you scratch beneath the surface of the press and praise that Muscle Shoals has received of late and Searching For Sugar Man before it, you’ll find an almost endless opportunity to discover something new or revisit something old.
Over the past few months some of the one’s I’ve picked through on Netflix in addition to the ones listed above include ‘Good Ol’ Freda that spotlights the Beatle’s former fan club president and personal secretary Freda Kelly, Sound City which is a great tribute to the San Fernando Valley recording studio of the same name, the moving profile of Kathleen Hanna who was the lead singer of Bikini Kill in The Punk Singer, Ain’t In It For My Health about Levon Helm, all 19 hours of the mini-series Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns and on HBO Demand this week I tackled Who The Fuck Is Arthur Fogel? I ain’t even goin’ there…go figure it out for yourself.
The one film I keep coming back to time and time again over these past few months has been Jim Brown’s Pete Seeger:The Power of Song. It makes me cry every time I watch it, and not because Pete and Toshi both passed away this past year. I cry because this man…this couple…are the parents and grandparents of not only their own family, but yours and mine. There are a lot of people in my life whom I love and respect, and many whom I honor for their achievements. Some I’ve met, some I’ve just read about or watched from afar. But Pete in particular is the only person I can look at and listen to and feel the full weight and force of the word hero. He’s mine.
This week I had the rare treat to join a few hundred people at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville New York for the kickoff of their new series, Sounds of Summer: New Music Documentaries. The night was dedicated to Pete, and was a multimedia event featuring rare film clips, several scenes from The Power of Song, live music, and conversation. John Platt, WFUV’s Director of Communication and the host of the favorite Sunday Breakfast show lead a discussion with Anna Canoni, the Senior Operations Manager of Woody Guthrie Publications and Woody’s granddaughter, Pete’s grandson, filmmaker Kitama Cahill-Jackson, and musician Tom Chapin.
Between film clips Tom shared some great stories about Pete and Toshi, led plenty of group singing while he picked at both six and twelve string guitars, and beautifully played the autoharp. And he was joined by one of my favorite duos that I just can’t seem to get enough of, Mike+Ruthy. You may recall that they were members of The Mammals that also included Tao Rodriguez Seeger. (Check out the link to their Summer Hoot which takes place in Woodstock later in August.)
There’s lots of intersecting lines and connections with the Seegers here in this valley. In the not quite two years that I’ve lived here, I’ve met so many people who’ve worked and played with Pete, were friends of his and Toshi, marched or stood with them, saw him perform when they were children at their schools or camp, took their families to Clearwater when it was just a local day in the park or would just bump into them at the market or on the streets of Beacon and beyond.
This summer through August, the film center’s series offers a wide range of interests, with topics and artist profiles that include South African opera singers, Dick Hyman, Woody Guthrie, The Beatles, Amy Winehouse, Balkan brass music, David Bromberg, Reverend Gary Davis, Robert Mann, and much much more. It’s been programmed by Brian Ackerman, Karen Sloe Goodman and Andrew Jupin. (Karen plays with the Shovel Ready String Band, who performed at the event as well.) The complete list with dates and info can be found here.
Should you be in the area this week (July 17-21)….Pete & Toshi Seeger will be honored at the upcoming Seeger Fest, a five day free event in New York City and the Hudson Valley featuring music, dance, film and more.
A spot for you old time roots music fans to check out is Folkstreams. This organization is building a national preserve of hard-to-find documentary films about American folk or roots culture, and gives them renewed life by streaming them on the internet. Just click here.
Pete Seeger:The Power of Song has been available to stream for free these past few months, and I hope it’s forever. If you haven’t seen it yet, consider this a public service from your friends here at No Depression. Until they take it down…go full screen and sing along. Find it here.
The photo of Ruthy, Tom and Mike was taken with the full co-operation of Siri on my iPhone 5s.