Leave You Not Alone: Watch and hear Jackson Lynch’s “Roving Cowboy” recording from the Brooklyn Folk Festival

There was a mood of fellowship in the Bell House the April morning we arrived with our Presto, a feeling in the air that anything could happen, and that anyone at any time might break out into beautiful song. So many people milling around at the Brooklyn Folk Fest that afternoon were great musicians, and every soul in the room an appreciator.

The spontaneity of the day led us to recording a side with Jackson Lynch, and as we always are when struck by good fortune, we were grateful to opportunity and appreciative of the musical talent that continues to grace us. Jackson performed the 19th Century Western Ballad “Roving Cowboy” with his fiddle bow gliding in a long journey across the strings. Like the cowboy of the song, never to settle, headed to who knows where.


 

Also, hear and see John Cohen’s recording “Danville Girl” from the other side of our Brooklyn Folk Festival acetate.

Thanks again to Eli Smith, the Bell House, John Cohen, Jackson Lynch and all the musicians, organizers and folks who came out to the Brooklyn Folk Festival.

May Adventures Past and Present: Cannes and daring recordings in an alley, on air, and onstage

May has turned out to be a momentous month for The 78 Project, each year it brings opportunities and joys we can hardly imagine.  This year May finds us in France!  Thanks to our fiscal sponsors and wonderful supporters at IFP we are participating in the first year of the Cannes Cross Media Corner, taking place during this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Thinking back to last May, we realized we were on a similarly adventurous bent, as in just one week we had the chance to record with The Wandering in a New York City alleyway at night, to appear live on WNYC Soundcheck recording with Justin Townes Earle, and to share an incredible evening of music at City Winery with our friends and supporters, culminating in a live onstage recording with Marshall Crenshaw.

In anticipation of the exciting week to come, a look back at this exciting week from one year ago:


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Look Up, Look Down: Watch and hear John Cohen’s “Danville Girl” recording from the Brooklyn Folk Fest

Our afternoon workshop at the 5th annual Brooklyn Folk Fest felt momentous. It was finally Spring! It was Record Store Day! It was the midpoint in a weekend of exceptional folk music, a gathering of some of the finest musicians and most enthusiastic appreciators around. And we were honored to be scheduled just before Anna Lomax presented her father’s film “Ballads, Blues and Bluegrass.” We were among friends and fellows, with legendary banjo player and historian John Cohen in front of our mic.

Thanks again to Eli Smith, the Bell House, John Cohen, Jackson Lynch and all the musicians, organizers and folks who came out to the Brooklyn Folk Festival.

 

Good Times All Would Happen: Hear Sid Selvidge & Steve Selvidge’s 78

Sid Selvidge is a performer and folk music scholar of the highest order. It’s a well-deserved rap he caught from devoting himself congenially and tirelessly to knowing the people and learning the songs of the South. And of course, to contributing his own songs to the story. Sid is a walking record of Delta music and the American folk scene as it has been and as it is, with stories for days and an ear ready for any new ones you might want to share with him.

Sid had a memory of the Frank Stokes song “I Got Mine” from hearing it on a sampler, he recalled it being catchy and sly. A song that puts its singer in the shoes of a rascally gambler out for a good time. But as he discovered, listening to it again, the exact lyrics are hard to make out. He looked them up, and found enough different versions to keep you confused for a week. So, acting in the truest folk music spirit, Sid just picked the words he liked and rolled with it, the version that now goes on record as his.

Things do change and stay the same in equal parts. For Sid, his son Steve, and for us the day we recorded them together in Memphis, that meant hearing Sid singing a song he’d sung so many times before, but in a changed voice and on a very old format. It was Sid’s idea, to hear the old and the new together this way, the perfect test of time, and the perfect record of place.

A Clip From The 78 Project Movie: Inside the Vault at the Library of Congress

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.

We wanted to bring you there with our movie, so that you could see some of these amazing stories with your own eyes. We stopped in to visit the Library during our first road trip, and our good friend and wonderful advisor Todd Harvey led us into the mysterious downstairs vaults. Watch your head going into the video clip below, there’s a low clearance on that vault ceiling.

There is still a way to support our film fund! You can be a part of this movie by donating here. We will put your name in the credits, and thank you during every step of the making, as we shoot more incredible footage and continue this journey to experience our shared musical legacy!

Donate to The 78 Project Feature Film

Curators, Collectors and Carolina Banjo: The 78 Project makes it to Dixie

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

Fried Green Tomatoes

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!

 

The 78 Project and the Open Road…

Our journey to make The 78 Project Feature-length documentary film starts today.  This morning the Presto will be packed in snugly with a stash of blank discs and new needles, our Canons with a cache of memory cards and lenses.  There will be no room left for anything else, so we might need to borrow your socks.

We are headed to Philadelphia, PA, Washington, DC, Durham, NC, Nashville and Memphis, TN, and points in between.  This leg of the journey goes until early September, but we’ll be traveling for the film shoots for the rest of 2012, so we’ll be visiting many, many more places.

There will be photos every day, we promise.  They’ll go straight to our Facebook, so “like” us there to see ’em!  Also follow us on Twitter for daily news.  If you’re on our Email list, we’ll catch you up each week on events and stories, and send you sounds and clips that we’ve captured.  If you’re not signed up for our list yet, enter your email in the field on our homepage sidebar.

We’ve never been so excited as we are at this moment, preparing to meet new people, hear new songs, visit hometowns and hometown haunts and seek out music where it lives. We’re grateful to have you along for this adventure!

Thank you to our amazing new friends at Stumptown Coffee Roasters for fueling our mornings on the road!

 

Coal Miner’s Great-Granddaughter: Hear The Mynabirds’ 78 “Roses While I’m Living”

After the excitement of being discovered in his home of rural West Virginia in the 1920s by representatives from a recording company, Dock Boggs saw his music career dissolve quickly.  Miraculously, the folk revival of the 1960s resurrected Boggs and his singular mountain-style banjo (thanks in no small part to Alan Lomax,) but in between his two big breaks, the musician spent thirty years at the bottom of a dark, dusty coal mine.  It is understandable why a man who knew the struggles and triumphs of life so intimately, would want to celebrate the human spirit now rather than waiting for the afterlife.  Leave it to a union man to make love into a call to action.

“Roses While I’m Living” puts a positive spin on the field recording tradition of expressing the hardships of life through song.  And The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn is always one for a positive spin.

 

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