Organizations

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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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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MVD Visual, a division of MVD Entertainment Group of Oaks, PA, has picked up North American distribution rights for Troubadour Blues on home video, download and streaming platforms. MVD is a family-owned company that got its start in the heyday of MTV, distributing music videos on VHS to the burgeoning video rental market — they are music people and will help get this documentary into appreciative hands.

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Looking at the date on that last post, I really need to catch this blog up to date. I’ll be screening Troubadour Blues Thursday, Feb. 23, at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Memphis, and Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Winter Roots and Blues Roundup in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada — and then sticking around to talk to music and filmmaking students on Monday and Tuesday.

Here’s an ad that’s running next month in Video Librarian, a magazine for media buyers at library systems and university libraries.

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Erie friends, you’ll get your chance to see Troubadour Blues for the first time Friday, Oct. 28, at the Erie Art Museum, with special musical guest Mark Dignam.

Doors open at 7, and you can get a drink and look at art until Mark plays a short set at 7:30. The screening will begin at 8, with a Q&A and more music afterwards. There’s a suggested donation of $10, but we’ll let you in for whatever you can contribute. Proceeds will help put Troubadour Blues on the road to Nashville, Austin, Boston, Washington, Columbus and many more places.

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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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