True stories from the front lines of American music

From Ethnomusicology, Spring/Summer 2014
Published by the Society for Ethnomusicology by University of Illinois Press
Review by Robert W. Fry, Vanderbilt University

Troubadour Blues. Directed, produced and edited by Tom Weber. 2011. DVD, 91 minutes. Distributed by Tom Weber Films, LLC, website: http:// tomweberfilms.com.

The film Troubadour Blues follows the careers of modern day American folk musicians as they travel through the country and document their experiences and the stories of those they meet along the way. The film opens by linking musicians, including Peter Case, Chris Smither, Dave Alvin, Mary Gauthier, Garrison Starr, and Slaid Cleaves, to a long history of musical storytelling, most notably the American blues, a connection that is suggested in the title of the film and reinforced by the musicians who, in interviews, praise the honesty and realness of folk musicians such as John Lee Hooker, Bukka White, Mississippi John Hurt, and Ralph Stanley.

In the process, these musicians authenticate their own musical path through personal and artistic connections to these legends and their craft. Their honesty as folk singers is further reinforced in the opening scene, where the viewer is first introduced to Peter Case performing a song about homelessness. In the following montage, the song stays the same while the venue’s location and decor, and Case’s dress and hairstyle, continuously change, reinforcing not only themes of travel, but also the authenticity of the performer and his role as a travelling storyteller. Case supports this in the opening interview, where he states: “You’ve got to look inside your heart. You’ve got to look in the eyes of people around you, listen to their voices. You’ve got to find a song in there worth singing, and you’ve got to go wherever it goes.”

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Although this site mainly showcases acoustic singer-songwriters, here’s a little change of pace, two songs by Buffalo, NY, Hall-of-Famer MARK WINSICK and his fine band. The songs pretty much speak for themselves. Recorded live at Sportsmen’s Tavern in Buffalo, NY, on a wintry Wednesday night in January 2014.

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The Troubadour Blues Roadshow, a unique blend of film, poetry, acoustic songs and plugged-in rock & roll, visits three cities in Tennessee this month. The show features singer-songwriters RB Morris and Nancy Apple, roots-rockers the Tim Lee Three, and a special preview of the film Troubadour Blues (which will be on sale at all shows). We’ll be at the Pilot Light in Knoxville on Thursday, Oct. 10, the Family Wash in Nashville on Friday, Oct. 11 (with special guests Amelia White and Julie Christensen), and Kudzu’s in Memphis on Saturday, Oct. 12. Click the links for details.

Troubadour Blues Roadshow poster.

Hope to see you there! We’ll be undertaking similar mini-tours in other parts of the country over the fall and winter, with a rotating roster of great performers.

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You may not know this, but a film’s “star” rating on the IMDB database is an important factor for streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu, who use it to decide what films to license and for how long.

The process is simple and you don’t even need to have an IMDB account to do it. Simply go to the film’s IMDB page and click where it says “rate this film. Here’s a screen shot to help you.

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Mine is definitely the one with the longest title:

The Man with the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist GuitarBlue Guitar, for short.

I was with Peter the other night in Carrboro, NC, when he played, back-to-back, two of the 10 classic songs on that album — which has been in and out of print for a long time; I included the link to Amazon.com because they list used copies available. The lighting was just right, the sound was good and the crowd was small but appreciative.

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About the Film

Troubadour Blues is a feature-length documentary that explores the fascinating world of traveling singer-songwriters. We see them in a variety of situations: impromptu performances, concert stages, formal and informal interviews and songwriting sessions. This is a story that needs to be heard. In our media-saturated age of instant pop stardom, there is real danger that the tradition of the itinerant working musician -- the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly -- is being diluted or lost. Troubadour Blues explores the hidden corners of our culture, where honest, authentic songs reflecting the human experience are still being made up and sung.

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