The following review was published when the film premiered in six theaters in the Washington DC area:
‘Bluegrass Country Soul’: New High
During the past two years, bluegrass music has been steadily gaining a more broad-based audience. Attendance at festivals has been up and a good number of those in the audience have been the sort of long-haired, blue-jeaned, dope smokin’ folks you’d expect only at rock concerts.
Part of this is probably due to a gradual falling off of interest in the high-speed mega decibel madness of rock concerts, particularly among older fans who seem to be searching for more deeply rooted musical forms.
But rock music itself has borrowed certain elements of bluegrass, to the point that veteran Earl Scruggs now has a larger following of young people than of die-hard bluegrass fans.
The flowering interest in bluegrass has spawned its first film: Albert Ihde’s “Bluegrass Country Soul,” which opens today at six local theaters. It is filled with good music, good photography and interesting people. But above all else it is delightfully enjoyable to watch.
The film was shot last fall at Camp Springs, N.C., by a group of Washington filmmakers and is currently being distributed by a local company.
On the surface it is simply a 90-minute documentary of that event. We see excerpts of performances by several of the most important figures in bluegrass – Chubby Wise, Roy Acuff, Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, as well as some of the younger and freakier groups like the Blue Grass Alliance (now the New Grass Revival) and the New Deal String Band. (The performers, incidentally, as well as festival promoter Carlton Haney have donated their percentage of the film to the establishment of a bluegrass museum on Camp Springs.)
But the film goes beyond this. Like the blues, bluegrass is an American phenomenon and touches on many aspects of our culture. These are reflected in the simplicity of the lyrics and the music itself (almost always using a standard mixture of bass, guitar, Dobro, mandolin, banjo and fiddle): in the old men in overalls who sit listening to the music flanked by freaks; in the performers chatting between performances about old times; and in the abundant presence of drinking, one of our great national pastimes.
All this is brought out deftly and beautifully by film editor Joel Jacobsen who displays not only a skill for his own craft, but also much taste for the subject he is dealing with. Jacobsen knows exactly how long to hold a shot – and our attention – cutting just when we start to get bored by a head-on framing of a performer on stage to, say, a woman in the audience downing some beer.
This is Ihde’s first feature. He reports that almost every major distributor turned the film down, “because they just didn’t know who it would appeal to.” Hopefully when it opens today they will get their answer. Bluegrass fans will love every minute, while novices should find it a fascinating and immensely likeable introduction to the art.
– Tom Zito
Washington Post July 12, 1972
The following responses appeared after Time/Life Music released the film on DVD in August 2006:
An email note from a Country Gentleman:
“… I watched Bluegrass Country Soul yesterday it’s even better than I expected. I felt like I was right there and still a Country Gentlemen. The video restoration and sound quality were great. You did a superlative job and thank goodness the film wasn’t lost forever. I’d bet the farm it will be a best seller for years to come. Thank you very much for my copy.”
– Bill Emerson
“Bluegrass Country Soul – A Must Have
“This ranks with the all-time best concert movies–Woodstock, The Last Waltz, and Stop Making Sense. …. the Earl Scruggs banjo finale is breathtaking. A beautiful piece of work, lovingly crafted and a one-of-a-kind experience.
– Zach Miller, Amazon.com
One of the Best Bluegrass Videos Ever
“This is a rare gem… filled with soul and excitement.”Read more
– Peter Wernick, Amazon.com
Bluegrass Country Soul
35th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
A film by Albert Ihde
Time Life, 21 song DVD
“This is one of those things I love to see come across my desk. TimeLife has re-released this legendary documentary from the 1971 bluegrass festival in Camp Springs, North Carolina. It’s an incredible slice of life, featuring not only legendary bluegrass musicians, but also the people that followed and appreciated them.
More than 20 performances are presented here, among them are the likes of Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, Del McCoury, Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, a young Ricky Skaggs, and even the Japanese bluegrass group Bluegrass 45. This, in and of itself, is reason enough to track this DVD down, yet it is even more compelling for another reason.
We also get a look behind the stage, where the performers interact and play with members of the audience. This is a festival in the truest sense, where all the barriers (literally and figuratively) have been removed. You get a sense that this particular happening was all about the love of music, both from the perspective of the artists and the fans. The documentary does a great job of displaying this love, showing that music can rise above the cliché and truly bring people together.”
– Mish Mash Music, blog post, October 2006
The Best Bluegrass concert – A Must Have
“This is an incredibly good DVD…. warms my soul and gives me goose-bumps.”
– Cullen Anderson, Amazon.com
“One of the best”
“It’s beyond me how this could get a rating of anything but a 10 from bluegrass enthusiasts. … absolutely top-notch. Some of the greatest musicians there ever were (and will be) play timeless classics. The filmmakers give you a great look into the experience of the festival… An absolute must-have for anyone’s music collection!
– Lisa Ellery, IMDB.com, May 8, 2013
The Clinch Mountain Echo
A site dedicated to Ralph & Carter Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys Alumni.
Along with Rachael Liebling’s High Lonesome film, this is one of those must see ‘Bluegrass’ DVD’s which is jam-packed with top-notch picking and an incredible jaw-dropping line-up.
Filmed at Carlton Haney’s 7th Annual Labor Day Weekend Blue Grass Festival at Blue Grass Park, Camp Springs, Reidsville North Carolina in 2nd – 5th Sept 1971, the movie provides a unique view of the early bluegrass festival scene, with many of first generation musicians, and early footage of contemporary bluegrass greats like the Country Gents, J.D. Crowe, Del McCoury, Tony Rice, Sam Bush etc.
The DVD has a playing time of approx 1 hour 26 min and … the film has good picture quality and excellent sound. The disc also includes an optional bonus commentary option by Fred Bartenstein, which gives lots of informative background details and context to the festival. Fred worked for Carlton Haney at the festival as one of the M.C.’s and was editor of ‘Muleskinner News’ at the time. According to Fred’s commentary the film was originally premiered at the Virginia Theatre in the Washington D.C. area on 6th July 1972. Expectations for the film were high, but unfortunately it didn’t get picked up by any national distributor and only a few prints were made. It did however become an ‘underground classic’ with 3rd/4th generation copies circulating… and I believe there was a poor quality VHS release as well.
In the film Ralph can be seen singing Man Of Constant Sorrow and Curly Ray Cline is also featured quite prominently during an on stage fiddle jam with several of the fiddlers including Chubby Wise, Hsueh-Cheng ‘Ryo’ Liao, Tater Tate, Tex Logan, Kenny Kosek, Big Joe Greene and others.
The DVD seems to be out of print at the moment, but there is the possibility that a 50th anniversary newly restored high definition wide-screen DVD may be released in a special box set … but just getting a restored print would be great news.
NOTE: It would be a great help if you would please send us any other reviews of Bluegrass Country Soul. Thanks.