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:
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.
We’ve been hard at work in the editing room since returning home in January from our California road trip. And though we sit in the same room every day as we sort the hours of footage we’ve shot so far for The 78 Project movie, there’s no possibility of sameness or fatigue. Each day we are transported to another room, any of the many different and beautiful rooms all around the country we’ve been invited into to film and make 78s.
This week as scenes from our Southern journey emerged on our editing monitors, the drudgery of winter had disappeared and suddenly summer was bearing down with the last of its might. We were transported to a sunny high-ceilinged room in Nashville mesmerized by a sultry and spectacular sound: the voice of Dylan LeBlanc.
We wanted to show it to you the moment we saw it. Haunting and reverent and filled with purity and magic, it called to us like the endless roads of our journey, reminded us of the warmth of your support, made us want to say thank you right now and always.
A beautiful afternoon filled with end-of-summer sunlight hid the rainstorm that was on the horizon. Our week in Memphis had been full of surprises, and our last day there was no different.
Sid walked in first, and his son Steve followed with their guitars. While we set up, father and son filled the room with stories of Memphis past and present. Sid can tell tales of Tennessee music for days, and you’d never want to miss one minute. He’s been there for it, and not only can he tell it, he can play it for you, too.
They settled in to pick and slide through a mischievous version of “I Got Mine,” two styles of playing that spin on the same axis. And when the story was told and the song finished, we heard two generations echo “It’s a record.”
Our deepest thanks to Ward Archer. For so many things!
We like to say that The 78 Project bridges 100 years of technology. And it’s true that in the course of shooting our movie the Presto has met and befriended many an iPhone. It’s the simple beauty of the technology and design behind the Presto that invokes the fascination that drives The 78 Project…
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.
The keeper of this shop is Richard Matthews, a man who knows his tubes – each and every one of the more than 100,000 he has stashed on floor-to-ceiling shelves. He also knows our tubes, because we bought them from him, and bring them back periodically for him to test. Our Presto relies on Richard’s sage knowledge of vacuum tubes to run its best, we just like to shoot the breeze with him and to pick his brain about technology.
On an unseasonably hot Saturday a few weeks ago, Richard pulled open the gate and invited us in with our camera to talk about Prestos, Tesla coils, radios and every topic in between, and to give our tubes a good going-over before our next road trip begins…
There are things that the Presto seems to know inherently, surprising and wonderful things that pop out of our recordings when we play them back. The tapping of a foot on a floorboard, the chirping of a bird filtered through glass, the high praise-pitch of a fife brightly bouncing down a dark alley.
The Wandering assembled late one May night on the concrete behind Joe’s Pub in New York to play the classic gospel “Glory, Glory,” the five members of the Memphis group carefully shuffling themselves around to mix the sounds. Luther Dickinson, Valerie June, Shannon McNally and Amy LaVere each found their place, and the voices and instruments mixed beautifully as it all came together. Everywhere Shardé Thomas stood, however, the Presto seemed to hear her fife particularly. It’s the fife that her grandfather, the great Othar Turner, made with his own hands. And it was almost as if the Presto knew that sound, like the voice of an old friend carrying across a room.
It reminded us that the fife and the Presto both had lives before we were born, have a history we can only imagine, might have known each other in another life as contemporaries.
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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
Sometimes there is a feeling of knowing a place well, though you’ve never been. We instantly felt at home in the apartment, though none of us had set foot there before. It was a beautiful, sunny loft in Soho that felt filled to its 20-foot ceilings with Spring. In the street below bike bells cha-chinged and jackhammers clanged. We set up while Joe and Lisa rehearsed with the windows wide open, knowing we’d have to close them for a clean recording, but in no hurry to stop the breeze from carrying the city up and in.
The “Red River Valley” of Joe and Lisa’s song fills us with comfort, though it’s not a place any of us have ever called home. Joe traveled from California, Lisa from Ireland. New York, where we all met that morning, falls right in the middle. And the song became the familiar meeting point between their two voices. Harmonies sung in a living room, where a family meets every day, sound like home. Wherever that may be.
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The Flipside: Lisa Hannigan & Joe Henry “Little Bird”
Because they were in the midst of touring together, Joe and Lisa had one of her songs already in their minds and fingers, ready to play for the Flipside of their 78. It came from an album of Lisa’s that Joe had produced, and it was clear from the wild focus of their duet performance of “Little Bird” that they had developed a deep relationship with the song together. The breath was swept out of the room from the moment they began. Even the street construction found itself struck silent by the command of their singing.