Making The 78 Project Feature-length Documentary Film
It’s been two incredible years since The 78 Project began shooting our first series of web episodes with generous and talented musicians in New York City. As the acclaimed web series continues, The 78 Project is now simultaneously on a journey to make a feature length movie!
Since August 2012, we’ve been traveling across America, stopping along the way to visit with exceptional musical artists to cut one-of-a-kind 78 rpm records in their homes and hometown haunts. Like Alan Lomax, the great field recordist and our inspiration, we’re out to discover what it means to be American today and to explore the deep historical significance of American songs. We’ve visited with renowned Grammy-winning producers, music historians and legendary 78 collectors. We’ve filmed at treasured national collections, including the Alan Lomax Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian. The 78 Project has also been invited to participate in the inaugural Cannes Cross Media Corner, The Power to the Pixel Cross Media Forum in London, and IFP’s Independent Film Week in New York.
As we continue to travel to shoot our movie, we’ll keep you updated with amazing stories, songs and video clips. This is a film about the connections we find with each other through music, and we want you to share it with us as we make it.
Ways to Get Involved and Help The 78 Project
If you missed the deadline to donate to our Kickstarter, it’s not too late! You can still back our movie and get your name in the credits, plus all the great benefits our Kickstarter backers do. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for more information.
Our documentary journey so far…
Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 78, A Happy Anniversary, and our Road Trip’s Sweet Nashville Ending (September 4, 2013)
This week is the anniversary of our first road trip to make The 78 Project Movie. Thinking about the year as a whole, there has been such a wonderful symmetry to our experiences. The first and last trips both finished in Tennessee, and each trip has been filled with bright, unexpected moments. It felt this week as if we had truly come full circle, and we wanted to celebrate the first recording from our very first road trip made with the perfect person to set the tone for what would come during the year that followed.
Mary Chapin Carpenter was a headliner at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and she offered to spend the afternoon before her set making a record with us in her tour bus. The most gracious host that she is, she not only invited us with all of our gear aboard her home away from home, she also let us turn off her air conditioning so that it wouldn’t interfere with the recording and serenely braved the August heat. Mary Chapin’s nature is graceful, and her performance was powerful, a combination that mesmerized and awed us. She sang “The Water is Wide” with the sure, patient voice and agile finger-picking of a person who has always known a song.
For our last two days recording this week in Nashville, we were thinking so much about how far we’ve traveled and of all the wonderful people we’ve gotten to know. In part because our last two musicians were so kind and generous, and in part because they all have been.
In Nashville, as in Memphis, we felt cozy and at home. Infinitely welcoming person that he is, Jim Lauderdale made us feel even more so. He gave us the run of a beautiful house from the 1890s, and a heartbreakingly gorgeous a capella performance of “Before This Time Another Year”. It’s no wonder that Jim is a constant collaborator. His musicality is superb, and he himself is the kindest of souls.
We always say that our last day of each trip always brings a wonderful surprise, and it remains true. Each trip as we’ve spent our last afternoon making a record, something magical has occurred, and this last day in Nashville was no different. The Secret Sisters had arranged for us to meet in the Lindsley Street Church of Christ, and everything about the moment was beautiful. Lovely, real life sisters Laura and Lydia, their fluttery, haunting voices in tight sibling harmony, the light through the stained glass, the sounds dispersing through the air all the way up to the ceiling. When they sang “In the Sweet By and By” and an original called “Little Again,” they invoked the timeless closeness of family. And during the giddy playback, they overflowed with the fresh energy of new experiences.
We drove out of Nashville as happy as we could ever be. The end of our last road trip is the beginning of everything that comes next for The 78 Project. We will edit our movie, continue making our web series, and feel fortunate every day that our work helps to bring many, many more singular one-take recordings to life.
Une Maison Blanche, étouffée, les esprits dan le bois: The 78 Project en Louisiana (August 28, 2013)
We woke up this week in Memphis, which feels like a home away from home to us now. We’re back in Tennessee after a week in Louisiana, our car filled with freshly cut records and as many of the spoils of Bayou cuisine as we could cram in around our gear. Last week was a wild one.
Our first stop once we broke the Louisiana state line was Arnaudville, where we were the guests of Louis Michot, Ashlee Michot and their sons for the weekend. Louis is a member of the phenomenal Lost Bayou Ramblers and a powerful fiddler with a voice straight out of the past. He and his wife are lively, fascinating keepers of a deep Cajun tradition. Louis built their beautiful house himself using old prairie methods mixed with modern ones, and Ashlee is a writer and translator of the music, lyrics, culture and life of their area. Along with the amazing accordionist Corey Ledet, the pair played the traditional Cajun song “Mon Chapeau” and “Maison Blanche,” an original that Ashlee had written.
After a night in Lafayette checking out some young French-singing musicians with Louis and Ashlee, we spent the next day hiking out to an old house in the woods forgotten until recently and in serious, glorious disrepair. Exploring the property with Louis, Ashlee and their two young sons was a perfect way to see how the life of a Cajun family in Arnaudville, Louisiana has changed, and how it is still the same. The house, like Louis’, is built by hand, and filled with the echoes of family life. The children’s bed in the attic still remains, though it takes a death-defying jump up onto a falling down outdoor staircase to reach it. We were awed again and again by Louis and Ashlee’s extensive knowledge of the history of the area, their families and their culture. It was an unforgettable two days of stories and music at the Michots.
We bid them farewell and headed back to Lafayette to meet Chris Segura of the band Feufollet who we planned to record the next day. He wanted us to hear some of the recordings he works with at the Archive of Cajun Music at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. In 1934 Alan Lomax had visited the region and recorded many local Cajun musicians who had never been recorded before, and many who never would be recorded again. The performances he played for us, dubbed from the original discs at the Library of Congress, were breathtaking. Particularly recordings of the Hoffpauir sisters, all under the age of 9, singing songs their father had taught them in French, and a dizzy, strange and beautiful fiddle recording by a man called simply “Mr. Barnu” in the sleeve notes. One of the most interesting discoveries, Chris told us, has been that so many of the musicians Lomax recorded in that session are ancestors and relatives of folks still living in the area today. Including himself and his Feufollet bandmate Chris Stafford.
Yvette Landry, a friend of the band and a musician herself (and also a descendent of Lomax-recorded musicians) opened up her lovely house for us to record Feufollet. And multi-talented guy that he is, Chris Segura got a crawfish étouffée cooking so that it would be ready when we were done. Feufollet’s classic Cajun lineup put us to the test as we room mixed a fiddle, accordion, guitar, piano, upright bass and triangle plus two vocalists. But it worked to a beautiful effect as they performed “Si t’as Fini Avec Moi” and an original in English written by Kelly Jones-Savoy “Tired of Your Tears.”
It was such a pleasure to hear French being spoken just about everywhere by everyone young and old. And to see how having the language as a distinctive cultural asset bonds musicians to each other and to the traditions of their families.
About three hours north in Marksville, we arrived the next day at the house of Gerard Dupuy. We’d heard his name a few times in the week leading up and in the months before we came, from Adam Arcuragi, who had played a show with him in Marksville, and from Louis, who is a distant cousin of Gerard’s. He’s called the Cajun Stump Jumper because he brings a Cyprus stump with him to shows and leaps up onto it in moments of particular spirit. These moments seem to characterize Gerard’s existence. In the days we spent with him in his beautiful house – which he built himself and improved over the course of 30 years to include church windows and vaulted ceilings – he introduced us to everyone and everything he possibly could in his area.
We learned so much about the history of Louisiana. Gerard is an energized, gregarious living record of the whole place. With him we saw the town, ate the best crab burger and Cajun boudin sausage around, stopped by Bailey’s, the local venue where Gerard sometimes plays. We surveyed Gerard’s more than 50-acre property including a beautiful 1920s cabin where his stump lives and where he played us some improvised songs. At the end of the second day he cut a record of a Mardi Gras call, the Cajun Mardi Gras during which a captain leads the town on a horseback ride to gather the supplies for the meal they will all eat together at the party that night. His style of fiddle and upright bass and singing are ethereal, like a musical séance.
Since the Red River abuts his property, for our last morning in Marksville, Gerard took us on a boat ride to a small river island. We thanked him and bid him adieu and left overwhelmed, spinning with the stories and experiences of the week.
Louisiana Bound: Our last road trip to make The 78 Project movie (August 18, 2013)
A Sunday in the Bayou is as perfect as it sounds. Bright sun, fresh eggs from the chickens outside, and music all through the house. We made it to Louisiana!
It’s been an eventful first couple of days on the road, and this trip feels filled with excitement and promise. We started out with a visit to the Library of Congress Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, VA. Built into the side of a mountain, the building is a beautiful sight coming up the road. And inside, it’s filled with treasures. Matt Barton, Brad McCoy, and Bryan Hoffa were kind enough to show us around and demonstrate some of their process. They played us a 7″ shellac disc from 1905 to show us how they capture the sound, and taught us their tried and true trick for centering a disc punched with an off-center hole. It involves a pencil.
Rare recordings and recording gear, and expert archivists working hard to make the material available to the public. The history of our nation’s recordings are being preserved in Culpeper, and it was inspiring to see the wonderful work that they’re doing. And in fact, about 10,000 of the historical recordings they’ve transferred are available to stream on their National Jukebox.
A quick stop in Lynchburg, VA and the lovely hospitality of some new friends Joan and George recharged our batteries for the long drive to Nashville. We crossed state lines at the Birthplace of Country Music: Bristol, TN/VA and we took in the sites for a few. It’s not every town that can lay claim to the first recordings of Jimmie Rogers and The Carter Family as well as count Clarence Ashley, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Uncle Charlie Osborne as one-time residents. If you find yourself there, might we suggest you eat at Eatz?
Nashville was as warm and welcoming as always, and it was wonderful to be there exactly one year to the week since we last came this way. But we couldn’t stay long, we were Louisiana bound!
Serendipity, Spoons, Hammers and Harmony: Our California adventure continues south and finishes strong (January 15, 2013)
Something drew us into that café. With it’s squeaky screen door, two tiny tables and unassuming presence at the end of the block, it just looked like the place where the locals go. We were passing through Joshua Tree on our way to Wonder Valley and had stopped in for a quick bite to eat. When Victoria Williams walked through the café door, we could hardly believe it. The luck! She told us her sweet dog Beau had led her there, and we’re inclined to thank him here now. We asked her if she’d like to make a record later that week and were thrilled to find that she did!
The next day we sped back west to meet an old friend for a very unique recording. Coati Mundi had tested every spoon in his kitchen, he told us when we arrived at his Murrieta, CA home. He’d chosen the perfect two, the ones that sounded the best in the bright-sounding room. The version of “Billy Boy” he had cooked up was truly original, infused with Latin percussion and the strangeness of a memory he has of learning the song as a city kid sent to the country for some fresh air. Over a home-cooked meal Coati reminisced with his sister about the Midtown disc-recording booths and rock concerts of their childhood. And he even played us the very first acetate he ever cut as a young piano player in New York City.
A couple hours drive away in LA the next morning, we were scaling Topanga Canyon in search of Little Wings. He met us in the road and guided us up to a steep parking spot, then helped us haul our gear down dirt paths and up homemade stone staircases to a lovely, sundappled little utopia where he spends half the year in a tiny cabin. We assembled on the porch to record his mesmerizing take on “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, and afterwards, he broke out his spray paint and stamps to customize the record sleeve.
Later that day in a cozy apartment in Studio City, Adam Levy & Gaby Moreno patiently practiced their smokin’ hot jazz while we disassembled the Presto to replace some tired tubes. If it sounds scary, that’s because it was! With no backup on hand, our Presto had to work. Many fraught moments later, the platter was back on and spinning. With the crisis averted, Adam and Gaby performed a sparkling version of “After You’ve Gone” that we’re sure will be one for the ages.
Gaby had been kind enough to let us use her just-bought vintage suitcase Newcomb turntable to play back their acetate, and after hearing its beautiful warm sound, we knew we had to get one. She and our friend and master audiophile Tom DeSavia directed us to the Audio Specialist. He turned out to be the vintage dealer of our dreams, outfitting us with the perfect new playback turntable.
We arranged to meet Victoria at her friends’ house in Echo Park a few days after we’d run into her in Joshua Tree. When we arrived, she and Beau were waiting for us with great-sounding a spot all picked out in the beautiful front room. Victoria’s friend Gabe Noel came over with his cello to accompany her as she sang “Take This Hammer” with her undeniable style and breathtaking grace. Over a dinner of vegetables from the garden out front, Victoria and her friends gave us a wonderful feeling of home so far away from our own.
It had been almost two weeks since we’d arrived in California, and those two weeks had been monumental. There was just one more record to cut to complete this most amazing trip. We packed up our car, bid our lovely LA hosts Elli and Andy goodbye, and started north for Pasadena.
Tom Brosseau & John Reilly were waiting for us, warming up their voices and guitars. They spun through an impressive repertoire of classic songs, wowing us at every subtle turn of their harmonies. Settling on two perfect tunes, “Careless Love” and “Single Girl’, the duo made an acetate of true distinction marked by the beautiful sound of true friendship and collaboration.
Later that night, we saw them perform at the Sanctuary in Santa Monica along with their friends Becky Stark (Lavender Diamond) and Willie Watson. And who should we see there but Victoria! It was a wonderful way to end our week in LA, and we headed back North with our hearts full of happiness and our car full of unbelievable records.
Before catching our flight, we stopped in to say hello to our old friend Mia Riddle in Santa Cruz, then headed the rest of the way up the coast back to San Francisco, the place where this whole wild trip started. A new year began while we were on the road filming this next chapter in The 78 Project Movie, and we feel the newness now, filled with potential and excitement, as we write this. It’s off to an amazing start thanks to our friends and supporters and to this fantastic West Coast journey, now complete.
Ouds, a New Year, a Lacquer Factory and the Desert: Our first week in California (January 7, 2013)
At the end of our first week in California, we found ourselves looking out across a vast expanse of sand and sky thinking back to our trip’s beginning, just one week ago in San Francisco. It seems too beautiful to have all just happened in one week. But as Ben Vaughn reminded us, gesturing out beyond his property to the faraway mountains before we recorded with him at his house in Wonder Valley, “How can anything be wrong?”
This idyllic scene in the Mojave fell at the end of a week filled with wonderful hospitality and amazing serendipity. But we should begin at the beginning of the story of our California Journey…
Last week when we left New York, we were nervous. If you’d seen us at the airport, you’d have laughed or died. We checked 9 bags of gear, including the Presto in its iron-clad, perfect black road case made for us by Red Dirt. It might have only been a hundred yards from the car to check-in, but it felt like a mile. Thankfully the nice folks at Delta took our gear with good humor, and we were on the plane and on our way!
We arrived in San Francisco and watched in horror as the Presto came crashing down the baggage chute. After testing the gear and finding everything miraculously in working order, we set out for Santa Rosa to record our first 78 of the trip with The Easy Leaves. At the end of a gravel road, next to a chattering creek, Sage Fifield and Kevin Carducci live in cozy, adjoining shacks. We set up in Sage’s under twinkling lights and recorded the duo performing “Cotton Fields.” Our first record in California! And it was beautiful.
Novato became our home base, thanks to our generous friends Tony and Kay. And suddenly, New Years Eve was upon us. How better to spend the last day of the year than on a real adventure? we thought when Jaron Lanier called and asked us if we wanted to stop by his Berkeley home to see his profound collection of musical instruments from all around the world. We stopped into San Francisco to pick up Jody Stecher to join in the fun, and an hour later we were lugging the Presto over clarinets and under hanging ouds to make our final 78 of 2012. A momentous and improvised recording of Jaron’s own design.
A new year and what a way to start it! Recording with X’s John Doe in his home in Fairfax. After cutting a rendition of “Skip To My Lou” more badass than your average barn dance, John was all fired up to try out some of the 78s he had lying around the house. So we turned the turntable over to him for an afternoon of Almanac Singers and Lead Belly’s “Sinful Songs.” 2013 felt welcomed in right.
An hour away in Sacramento the next morning, Julie Baenziger of Sea of Bees awaited us with doughnuts and coffee and stories galore. Her voice, like her house, was filled warm sunlight and life as she sang “In My Dying Day.” And after we made her 78, she took us to see her favorite Sacramento sights, cafes and a recording studio and all the places a local would want to go. We felt so at home that it was hard to depart, but we had to put a whole state under our wheels that night, so we bid Jules goodbye and hit the trail.
Eight dark hours later we were in Southern California. We regrouped, backed up and repacked at our dear friend and 78 Project contributor Sarah Law’s house. The desert was calling and we knew we had to be ready. We had a date with our supplier!
We can say without hesitation that Apollo Masters in Banning, CA is the reason The 78 Project can exist. They make our 78 acetate discs and the cutting needles we use…and they are the only ones in America who still do. We were honored that they extended us an invitation to visit their record-making facility, which included a full tour of every part of the process. All we can say is that it was mind-blowing. Apollo is a small company that produces an incredible product. Each disc goes through so many stages of production and quality control, and at each stage a real human being handles it. We saw how they polish the metal discs and coat them in lacquer then punch the hole in the center after they’ve dried. We also saw how one woman carefully crafts the ruby-tipped cutting needles one at a time under a microscope. We left wide-eyed and in awe of the preciousness of each and every disc we cut!
Further east past the grapevines and cow pastures, past the golf courses and the Joshua Trees, at the end of a long dirt road and a long dirt driveway, Ben Vaughn was waiting for us. His famous Rambler stood sentry as we entered his property, and two vintage campers sat out back, ready to be used to make a 78. As the sun went down, we set up in front of the Silver Streak, and Ben played “Worried Man Blues” with a lilting, cheerful energy. No dust settled on the disc and his camper provided us with a refuge for our playback after the hot desert sun set and left the air chilled and dark.
A Slide “Guitar Rag” to Make Your Season Bright: Joe Bussard’s holiday greeting (December 21, 2012)
You’ll pass the Barbara Fritchee on the right hand side. You can’t miss it, because of the candy cane. These directions, given over the phone with a gleeful chuckle, began to make perfect sense as we turned a corner off the interstate in Frederick, Maryland and were greeted with a lovely little hometown diner dressed up for the holidays with a 20 foot candy cane out front.
After winding and dipping around corners and down hills, we arrived at Joe Bussard‘s home, greeted by a wood-burning stove, his napping, contented cats, and the man himself. Time’s a-wastin’! There’s so much to hear!
At the end of a few hours of listening to more rare, beautiful records than we can properly recount, Joe acquiesced to our request of him to record a holiday greeting on his slide guitar. In front of the mic, he turned on like a light on a dark winter night. A Presto recordist himself, Joe knew the drill. Or the screwdriver, as it were.
Tube Test at Leeds Radio (October 26, 2012)
Just past a bustling artisan market, behind a graffiti-ed gate on North 7th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, lies a 2,500 square foot vacuum tube wonderland named Leeds Radio. For the vintage amp and hi-fi fanatic, it’s a dream come true, and for those who simply appreciate weird science and beautiful design, it’s a fascinating place to spend an afternoon.
Inside the Vault at the Library of Congress (October 3, 2012)
The 78 Project movie we’re making will be filled with entirely new performances and the history that ties them to the momentous recordings of the past. The recordings that have inspired us and filled us with emotion – Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Jean Ritchie, Jelly Roll Morton, the high lonesome sounds from the mountains of Kentucky, the hard-driving determined voices of prisoners on a work line – they still exist! And not only are the 78rpm discs that contain them very real, but so are the details that surround their creation. On visits to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC we have seen hand-written letters from Muddy Waters and Lead Belly, we have seen the sleeves and boxes that contain the scribbled notes on some of the greatest field recordings ever made, the Library is a place where the great musicians who shaped American music can all sit together side-by-side.
Red Ants and Rainstorms, Fathers and Sons: The 78 Project in Memphis (September 10, 2012)
Tropical rainstorms were turning the streets of Memphis into rivers, but inside the Hi Tone we were safe and sound, tucked in and battened down to make an acetate with John Paul Keith. We thought for sure some of the raging rain would make it onto John Paul’s rendition of “The Knoxville Girl,” but when we played it back, it was as pure and sweet and clear as a brutal murder song can be, a testament to John Paul’s skills as a singer and a scholar of music.
Driving around Memphis, we saw the effects of Hurricane Isaac in downed trees and sodden grass, but everyone seemed in great spirits. It was a holiday weekend, and everyone was manning a BBQ and humming a tune, in their element as Memphians. Our host for the week was our dear friend Ward of Archer Records, and he showed us infinite generosity, trading us his breakfast table (we turned it into our base of Memphis operations) for a couple mornings worth of Stumptown and some good conversation.
We were eager to see Luther Dickinson in his home state of Mississippi, after having such a wonderful time recording with him and his Memphis supergroup The Wandering in New York back in May. He led us down to Hernando, to the DeSoto County Museum to make a recording on the porch in the shimmery heat of the afternoon. Luther played a mean streak through “Mississippi Boll Weevil Blues” and the floorboards creaked to his time. You can’t tell a bluesman not to stomp his foot, however, and that’s all we’ll say about that for now.
Tuesday was a marathon day with three recordings planned. We faced it bravely, rising early to take over St. Mary’s Cathedral for the morning with Star & Micey withJeremy Stanfill. The vaulted ceilings of a spectacular church showed the Presto more reverb than it had encountered in it’s wildest tube dreams (do Prestos dream of reverb-filled rooms?) and Josh, Nick, Geoff and Jeremy melted their voices together in lovely harmony.
The afternoon brought us back to Mississippi, this time to Hunter’s Chapel in Como. The chapel is filled with the history of Mississippi music – Mississippi Fred McDowell and Othar Turner both attended and McDowell recorded there in 1964 – and the Reverend John Wilkins lives that musical legacy with his gospel blues singing and his devotion to the people of his church. We had been told that the Reverend plays the hill country blues in the way of his father, the renowned singing Reverend Robert Wilkins. And when we heard him, we saw that it was breathtakingly true. He invited us in and made us feel at home in his chapel, then played for us “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me” and “Jesus Will Fix It.” His rich voice and skilled finger-picking cast a transcendent spell over the room, and when he heard his record played back, his father’s voice echoed out from the lacquer.
WATCH: Reverend John Wilkins performs “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”
We promised to return for a Sunday service, and bid Reverend Wilkins farewell. Red ants from the Mississippi ground stowed away in our shoes as we drove back for Memphis. We had one more record to make that day.
Scott Bomar had invited us to join him and members of his band The Bo-Keys with Percy Wiggins at Molly Fontaine. Six musicians was the largest group we’d ever attempted to work around one mic, but we were excited for the challenge. Drums, upright bass, trumpet, sax, electric guitar and Percy’s powerful voice all found a space in a single groove, and afterwards we felt sure that the band’s version of “Deep River” would become the definitive one.
We couldn’t have wished for a more wonderful recording to make on our final day in Memphis. Wednesday afternoon we had a visit from Sid Selvidge and his son Steve Selvidge. They brought their guitars out and Sid unpacked some fascinating and laugh-out-loud stories from his lifelong search for songs and his great appreciation of his fellow musicians. He also unpacked a jaunty performance of the Frank Stokes song “I Got Mine.” Sid recently found his voice had deepened, and he was very interested to hear it recorded on 78. Every ounce of what makes him a folk scene hero was there in the record, and there was no denying that the family musical bonds between Sid and Steve are as strong as a double-wound steel string, their playing danced and joined together in joyful, rascally song.
Earlier in the week, to record with Luther, we’d taken the scenic route down through North Mississippi. Afterwards we’d felt so full of the place that we decided to continue on south for a while before heading back up to Memphis. So as the sun set, we hit the road for Clarksdale, getting there as night fell in a fluttering cloud of insects and ghosts. We visited the Crossroads, as you must, and drove into the deep darkness of the unpaved roads around the city to find a drink and some more history. We returned to Memphis late in the night, coated in humidity and dotted with insect roadkill and possessed with a feeling that time had compressed to bring the past and future together at once. It summed up our time there in a nutshell, as Memphis and the region around it is a place that defies time.
Leaving Memphis wasn’t easy after the generosity the place had shown us, but we needed to make tracks for home. As we crossed Tennessee, long spidery blasts of lightning crossed the sky and rain plowed down on us. We felt honored that the state went to such great lengths to keep us inside it’s borders. But the cement and 6-lanes between us and home were calling, and we were excited to get back to start playing these amazing records and films for you.
Cheatin’, Longing and Family Legacy: The 78 Project spends a week in Nashville (September 3, 2012)
We hit Nasvhille in the afternoon on Tuesday, and went straight over to record with Dylan LeBlanc in Franklin, TN. While he was warming up, we discovered he is a part of a family legacy of beautiful whistling, and he genially agreed to do some whistling on the song. Dylan told us stories both sad and triumphant, and performed a haunting version of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” as well as an original called “Innocent Sinner.”
Our dear friend Willie of The Breedings put us up for the week in his East Nasvhille home, and we got to check out some local eats and color, including getting to meet Miss Katy K in her Ranch Dressing store!
Chelsea Crowell invited us over to the gorgeous pre-Civil War era house where she lives, and let us take over the living room with its beautiful afternoon light. She performed “Are You From Dixie?” like it had never been played before, with genuine longing and mesmerizing gentleness and subtlety.
Thursday bright and early we joined Ella Mae Bowen in another beautiful old Nashville house. Ella Mae had written songs for her album there, finding so much inspiration in it that she knew it was the place she should make her 78. We set up in the foyer, where the light from the upstairs window cast a glow around Ella Mae as she sang “The Love of God” with so much love in her powerful voice that we were swept away.
Holly Williams and Chris Coleman and their two happy dogs generously invited us over for our last recording afternoon in Nashville. Holly and Chris sang a stirring version of “I Saw The Light,” a song by Holly’s grandfather Hank Williams, with pure and energetic harmonies. The Presto got to star in a photo shoot of its own as it sat in their screened back porch, Chris pulled out his big guns camera for the occasion.
The long weekend started, and we dug in to backup our footage, enjoy the last moments of our time in Nashville, and get ready to hit the road once again. Memphis, we can’t wait to see you!
Curators, Collectors and Carolina Banjo: The 78 Project makes it to Dixie (August 27, 2012)
Has it only been a week since we left DC? Our minds have recalibrated to the rhythm of the road. And since we’ve come to expect at least one new place and a hundred new experiences with each new day, this trip has started to feel like it has always been our life. In a good way.
Last Thursday we were lucky enough to spend the whole day with Todd Harvey at the Library of Congress. Todd curates the Library’s Alan Lomax Archives, and every time we visit he shows us fascinating pieces of this really comprehensive collection of recordings, correspondence, technology and stories from the life’s work of the great field recordist. This time the highlight was a letter Lomax had written to a teenage Muddy Waters (known then as McKinley Morganfield) encouraging him to keep in practice!
Friday we drove clear across Virginia, from Alexandria to just past Charlottesville, where we had been invited for a visit with the exceptional 78 collector and producer Christopher King. He kindly shared with us some amazing recordings from Albania, Greece and the Polish mountains, took a stab at finding some Death Gospel in his collection (Washington Phillips) and played for us the record that has captivated our minds since we first heard about it: Geeshie Wiley. Chris and his family made us feel so right at home in their beautiful house, telling us wild family stories about removing snakes from in the ceiling with his grandfather’s hatchet. And he was game enough to make a recording on our Presto of a family story with a twist that left our jaws on his kitchen floor.
WATCH: Chris plays us one of his favorite 78s
Saturday we completed our traversing of Virginia, stopping at a farmers market in Lynchburg for one last sampling of the state’s local fare. We picked up some twangy apples and some grapes we were told the raccoons love, then we hit the local diner for some homemade pimento cheese and some Eggs Virginia, which if you haven’t had it, get it soon.
Next stop was a Banjo Symposium put on by the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. What an amazing day, especially for Alex, who is himself a banjo enthusiast. The assembled group of scholars were some of the most knowledgeable about the instrument that exist, and we had the great pleasure to meet and hear Cecelia Conway, Stephen Wade, Dom Flemons and Laurent DuBois among others. That night we got to see Dom, Tony Trischka, and Riley Baugus with Kirk Sutphin in concert performing classic and new banjo songs. It was inspired. And just to give you an idea of how inspired, Dom did the splits while playing the bones.
Sunday we celebrated with our lovely Chapel Hill host, Laura Broom, the banjo aficionado Phillips Saylor, and his cool, folklore-packin’ lady Chloey.
Monday afternoon, the Southern Folklife Collection curator Steve Weiss invited us in for a tour. Among the discoveries was a banjo under debate, is it a Frank Prophet or a Clifford Glenn? Steve showed us an amazing wax cylinder player that adjusts for warps and we found out what three tons of 78s looks like: the collection of Eugene Earle. Just a few pounds short of being too heavy for a semi to carry it from California, where Steve went to box it up and haul it out of Earle’s garage.
We had pressing business in Nashville, so we hit the road to tackle some of the eight hour drive that night. We waylaid in Asheville and woke up early for a sunrise drive through the Appalachian Mountains. Goodbye North Carolina, hello Tennessee!
Folk, Family and Thwarted Failure: Our first week on the road (August 24, 2012)
Nothing less than a wild start would do for any trip The 78 Project takes. Within hours of our Kia Soul zipping through the Holland Tunnel, we were careening through the Philadelphia Folk Fest site on a vehicle of a different kind. An electric shuttle with our friend Joshua behind the wheel took us behind the sleepy stages and through the campground that had already, before the festival even began, turned into a bustling tent town. Site scout complete, we moved in with our very accommodating family in Philadelphia. And when we say moved in, we mean it. We have a lot of stuff.
Our first recording of the trip was on Friday afternoon. Mary Chapin Carpenter invited us onto her tour bus, and generously offered to go without air conditioning for two hours so that the sound of the generator wouldn’t interfere with the recording. She performed a beautiful version of “The Water is Wide” and told us stories about learning to play folk songs on her mother’s ukulele.
Saturday morning we stopped in at Joe’s Spring Mount Hotel to ask if we might borrow their leafy porch for an afternoon shoot. The owners, Ben and Cindy, were the kindest of hosts, letting us plug our Presto in to their building to capture Arborea on lacquer and serving us Pennsylvania-brewed beer. The band’s “When I Was on Horseback” was haunting on a cicada-filled summer afternoon. And not only was the record subtle and perfect, not a single bee stung Shanti, and only one passing motorcycle made its way into the song.
Sunday morning we arrived on site bright and early to record some gospel with the Holmes Brothers on the campground stage. We were honored to meet them and moved by their performance. It seemed a little funny to put them on a 78, they thought, who wants to go back in time? But hearing themselves perform “Amazing Grace” as we played back their record, they agreed it was something rather special.
Some old and new friends were on hand to say hello during the weekend, including XPN and the curators of the Rigby Mansion. And our gratitude goes out to Rodney Wittenberg for letting us turn his beautiful farmhouse and studio into our command center. Back with family, cozy and well taken care of, we recharged and repacked.
Tuesday afternoon we headed into the Northern Liberties home of Philadelphia artist Aldo Buffone to meet Honus Honus and his accomplice Kara Nelson. It was a glorious and harrowing afternoon. Presto #1 malfunctioned, but Honus and Kara didn’t. They sang a wicked streak through “Down in the Willow Garden.” We brought out Presto #2 to scare Presto #1 into shape, and our plan worked (with the added ingenuity of the Alex Steyermark Masking Tape Fix™). A 78 was made.
Late at night we bade Honus goodbye and staggered down to DC, greeted with open arms by our dear friend Vandaveer and his beautiful family. They fed us and wined us and when we brought in the Presto, their two-year old knew exactly what needed to be done. He walked straight to the mic and sang “The ABC Song.” Like father like son.
LISTEN: “The ABC Song” at Vandaveer’s house
Our deepest appreciation goes to the generous folks who have backed The 78 Project movie. Your help has made wonderful things possible!
Able Strangers LLC, Adam Arcuragi & Brienne Rose, Adam Hohenberg, Alison and Andy Duback, Allison Craig, Allison Scagliotti, Amy Briamonte, An Admirer of Protectors of the Old Ways, Andrew Gray, Annie Cappell, Archer Records, Music+Arts Studio, Ayo Awosika, Barbara Solem, Barbara Spector, Ben Goldberg, Ben Simon, Beth Medoway Kagan, Biliana & Marina Grozdanova, Blind Willie McTell, Bradshaw Family, Brian Dixon, Brian Keith LaPrade In Memory of Douglas LaPrade, Brian Sendrowitz, Bryan McConachie, Buck Curran and Shanti Curran, The Cain Family. Mt. Ephraim NJ, Carlos and Lua, Chie Kuroiwa, Chris + Jennifer Daltry, Chris Jones, Chris Newell, Christal Cody, The Rev. Christopher Laughlin, Chris, Charmayne & Riley, Cindi Ettinger, Clark Dimond, Coati Mundi Hernandez, D. Miller, Dan Rowan, Daniel Littlewood, Dave Millard, David B. Dorwart, David Barnaby, David Hamma, David Kain, David Rosenthal (In Memory of Benjamin A. Botkin), Dave Sica of InfoAge.org, David Gale, Deenie Hartzog, Diana Post, Dirk Blanchart, Don Fleming, Dust & Grooves, Earl Rose, to Eileen McMullan Grady, Eliza and Andrew Jones, Elizabeth Freund, Elyse Realey, Emil Friis, Eric Dyson, Eric W Goff, Eric Wayne Norlander, Erik Philbrook, Erik Winquist, Esmé Wright, Etan and Megan Rosenbloom, In memory of Eve Geissinger, Farm to Ladle, Fiddes Smith, Fil Krohnengold, Gary Kolb and Georgia Wessel, Gregory Ragucci, Gus is a rocker, Hygienic Art, INSTRUMENTAL music webzine, J L Molloy, Jacob Blickenstaff, James Rickman, Jamie Campbell, Jared Varava, Jason Fitzpatrick, Jason “The Sultan” Lethcoe, Jason S. Matuskiewicz, Jason Silberman, Jay Yu, Jennifer Field, Jenny Sturrock, Jeremy Bridges, Jessica Stewart, Jim Hoffman, Jim Muir, Joan Wadleigh Curran, Jo Ann Wright, Joan & George, Joe and Caren Lee Brenman, Joe McGinty, Joel Plutchak & Family, John Bilderback, John Vettese, Johnny Isaacs (with thanks to Gene Warner), Jon Burr, Jon R. Smith, Jonathan Cohen, Jonny Trouble Butt Berger, Jools Henn, Joseph Wright, Josh Hunt (Lawrence, KS), Josh Rifkind, Joshua Stone, Julie McEntee Miller, Justin William Craig, Kallistas, Kara Suzanne, Karl Jones, Kate Vandegrift, Kathy Muir, Kelly Booth, Ken Baldwin, Kerri Mahoney-Bomar, Kevin Winter, Kim Stewart, Kyle C, Laura Marmar, Lara Iden, Laurie Thomas, Lawrence and Susan Wolk, LBT/Animosity, Lisa Serman, Linda and Paul Champanier, Lindsay Giles McWilliams!, MJB, Maggie Clark and Dave Parker, Margaret Craig, Maris Jones, Mark Charles Heidinger, Mark Crawford (Unreasonable Media), Mark Schoneveld, Marlene Carle Schweidel, Martin Czembor, Matthew D. Williams, Melissa Toldy, Meredith DiMenna, Micki Poklar, Missy Cohen, Morbs, Music enriches our lives., namyisun, Neil Wright, New London Music Festival, Nick Kuskin, Nick Stern, Norman Primrose, Olga Wilhelmine, Opiyo Okeyo of RestInBeats.com, Pat Gubler, Pat Irwin, Patrick Damphier, Patrick Derivaz, Patrick Van Hautem, Paul Steyermark, The People’s Art, Peter Brensinger, Peter c. Kirwan, Jr., Peter Hershberg, Peter Jason Riley CPA, Peter “pw!” Wonsowski, Robert McKibbin, Roberta Reitz, Rod Sherwood, Rolf Mach, Rune Vendler, Ryan Hawkins, Sam Edwards, Sarah Knowles, Scott Troyan, Sexy Lexy, Sloan and Steven Ettinger, Solar Greens Company, Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez, Staci Strauss, Stephanie Skaff, Steve Flom, Sulondia “Sue-Ham” Hammond, Susan Dolan, Susan Griggs Photography (Chesterfield, SC), Susan Wright, thatch, Tadd Igarashi, Tampa Enoch-Reese, Thomas Callahan, Thomas D. Keiser, Tiago Pantaleao, Tobias Fiebiger, Todd Goldstein, Todd Schwartz, Tom Clapham, Tom Beck, Tom Hyde, Tommy Tillo, Tony & Kay, Tony Fletcher, Tom McWilliams, Wei-Hsin Yang, Wende Martin & Meriwether Nichols, Willie Breeding, Yellow Dog Records
In recognition of all enthusiasts of American traditional music
Thank you 78 Project! – Pat Irwin
Best wishes, continued success and keep those platters spinning. – Jonny Trouble Butt Berger
Thanks mom and dad, my love of music came from you both. – Roberta Reitz
In memory of my father, Tom DeSavia, Sr., who gave me my first cherished records when I was 6 years old – a box of 78s.
To my sister, Amy Marbach & The Merry Janes.
Contribute to The 78 Project Feature Film
Donations to The 78 Project Feature Film production are tax-deductible when you make them through our fiscal sponsorship with the IFP at http://fiscal.ifp.org/project.cfm/611/The-78-Project/
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Make a donation to The 78 Project film via PayPal by using the buttons below:
Our deepest appreciation! We’ll put your name – any way you like – in the Thank You section on our website (unless you’d rather we didn’t.)
We’ll send you a Vintage Postcard from somewhere on our journey. A unique message from us to you on a beautiful vintage postcard, sent from the road. We’ll even customize it for a gift. [Estimated delivery: One month]
Ticket to a screening of the feature-length documentary. Come celebrate with us next summer, and see field recording on a big screen! New York, Los Angeles, Memphis and more cities TBA. -OR- A pre-release DVD of The 78 Project feature-length documentary. [Estimated delivery: Summer 2013]
A special set of memorabilia from The 78 Project. Includes the unique behind-the-scenes Polaroid, the vintage postcard from the road, our custom hand screened Stroboscopic disc, and we’ll include a surprise that we find for you on our travels! [Estimated delivery: Summer 2013]
A hand silkscreened Presto art poster featuring gorgeous schematic imagery from its operating manual, a vintage postcard from the road, and a ticket or DVD. [Estimated delivery: Summer 2013]
Actual test acetate from The 78 Project shoots! Your name on acetate in the film credits, a Presto poster, and a ticket or DVD. We’ve collected quite a few tester discs containing ten-second snippets of various artists and voices. They look cool with all those rings, and you can play them and try to guess which episodes they are from! Plus we’ll read your name on our end credits acetate for the feature-length film, and we’ll send you a Poster and a ticket to a screening or a DVD. [Estimated delivery: Summer 2013]