Feb. 20, 2013 - Issue #905: DOA No more - Trading in punk for politics
John Cohen Film Festival
Roots and traditional music have experienced a resurgence into mainstream music, and pioneering filmmaker, photographer, musicologist and founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers, John Cohen, is here to take us back to where it all began.
Cohen is credited for the discovery of numerous roots artists—including Dillard Chandler and Roscoe Holcomb—during his time exploring the Appalachia area in the '60s, documenting the musicians of the region and the subsequent influence of their surroundings on their music. The resulting films—many of which are no more than 15 to 20 minutes—offer brief-but-telling glimpses into the lives of each artist, and are being compiled and showcased together at the John Cohen Film Festival. Cohen's own films will be prefaced with Always Been a Rambler, a documentation of the career of the New Lost City Ramblers.
"I think there's a real understanding, a sensitivity to the subject matter of the people," says Jonathan Kertzer, director of folkwaysAlive! at the University of Alberta, which is presenting the event in partnership with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and Peter North. "It just really gives you an inside look into what life was like in the traditional rural south and the people that were marginalized or ignored. That was his whole thing with his music, and New Lost City Ramblers was formed to bring appreciation to this kind of forgotten music and that's been a part of what Folkways Recordings did as well."
The gritty, black and white films depict the rural south in a very real and empathetic way, Kertzer says, noting the lack of camera tricks or flashy angles allowed for pure documentation rather than a visual spectacle. Now 80 years old, Cohen—who will be present and speaking about his work at the event—is credited for revitalizing what is now known as old-time music in urban centres. Cohen was from suburban New York, and his partner and fellow Rambler Mike Seeger was from Washington, DC and the pair interpreted the genre in their own way, but the urban mindset did not seep into the films.
"The whole centre of musicology is to understand music and its context and to really get to understand where the music's coming from, what its meanings are," Kertzer notes. "Its raison d'être is to understand its environment and where the people live, so you can't really separate the two."
Sat, Feb 23 (1 pm)
Part of Winter Roots Roundup IV
Festival Place, free
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