For the Love of the Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival,
directed by Todd Kwait & Rob Stegman
(Ezzie Films/Bluestar Media, 2013)

various artists,
For the Love of the Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival
(Kingswood, 2013)

"Folk music is about something," says West Virginia-born, Boston-residing bluegrass musician Everett Lilly (1924-2012) in this engaging, full-length documentary about the 1960s Boston/Cambridge folk scene. Lilly succinctly expresses folk's appeal, even (or maybe especially) to those of us who experience traditional songs far removed from their natural environment. I know that in my own case, as a naive, small-town Midwestern kid, I was amazed that songs could be about something beyond teenage hormones and adolescent angst. Even now, the "aboutness" that defines traditional music continues to fascinate and thrill me.

For the Love of the Music takes its title from Tom Rush's observation that the performers who found their way to Club 47, a small listening room located on a side street near Harvard Square, comprised amateurs "playing for the love of the music." And what "amateurs" they were; some are still touring, recording and making meaningful music: Rush, Joan Baez, Maria Muldaur, Geoff Muldaur, Jim Kweskin, Taj Mahal, Peter Rowan and more. Even artists not based in Boston were club regulars: Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, the late Paul Butterfield.

Both famous and obscure get their due in a series of surprisingly frank interviews. They prove to be an intelligent and articulate bunch. Unlike other forms of pop music, the revival overwhelmingly attracted (and, in its current incarnation, attracts) smart people, possibly by folk's very nature. It is not a genre you get to simply by turning on the radio. You need to be inquisitive and open-minded just to be aware of its existence.

As the Canadian folksinger-songwriter Ian Tyson remarked in a newspaper interview not long ago, other forms of music may come and go, but folk is always around. Even at times when its mainstream popularity has ebbed, it's still out there, findable if you're willing to make the effort to look for it. A folk revival is going at full power in England these days, and all across America young people are forming bands that feature their new arrangements of old sounds. As Maria Muldaur notes here, folk and roots recordings are more widely available than they ever have been. Such developments, of course, are ultimately traceable to the '60s revival, which set the template for the revivals that have followed.

Doing a service to both the historically and the musically minded, For the Love highlights a cultural episode that, if less celebrated than its Greenwich Village contemporary, is hardly less vital and influential. Among its abundant virtues and insights, the documentary sheds light on the forgotten contributions of the late Eric Von Schmidt, the intellectual author of the movement in Boston/Cambridge, also a model for Dylan in his formative years. Von Schmidt, it's further worth noting, composed the classic "Joshua Gone Barbados," among the most enduring topical songs the folk era produced.

A companion CD combines performances from the film and live ones taped more recently at the Putney School in Vermont. Half the cuts are of actual folk music, the rest of current singer-songwriting whose relationship to folk seems to consist of no more than the shared use of acoustic instruments. Overall, with the exception of Tim Eriksen's memorably apocalyptic reading of "Oh Death," the CD is less interesting than the DVD. What you need to know, in other words, is what's in the film.

music review by
Jerome Clark

23 August 2014

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