Featuring some of the most celebrated practitioners of this traditional sounding but still evolving musical form, this DVD presents a sonically rich and visually stunning portrait that often leaves viewers suppressing appl... more »ause and cheers after each number« less
"Filmmakers Ruth Oxenberg and Rob Schumer, eavesdropping on The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in upstate New York, have made an engrossing documentary that accurately captures the invigorated, post-"O Brother" bluegrass scene in all its glories and excesses. The film's heady goulash of performances, interviews and verité footage of the music's movers and shakers and their fans - whose singleminded devotion, frankly, sometimes comes off as darn near cult-like - stands as one of the best, most entertaining primers available for those interested in where bluegrass started, where it is now, and where it appears to be headed. (The thoughtful commentary of Del McCoury and Tim O'Brien is especially worthwhile.) The filmmakers pointedly include brief shots of fans of African American and Asian ethnicity, but the pervading lily-whiteness of the bluegrass community is inescapable, and the film doesn't bother to examine why that is. The non-stop musical highlights - there's snippets or full versions of about 34 songs - come not only from the large and impressive roster of artists, but also from the amazing jammers, who deserve their own movie. The Del McCoury Band doing "Rain and Snow" (one of the best bluegrass murder tunes and a personal favorite) stands out, along with Tony Rice's solo "Shenandoah/Danny Boy" medley, some of the prettiest guitar playing you'll ever hear. For my taste, the film squanders too much attention on Nickel Creek, whose wimpy noddlings - which I lump in the same class as Yanni and John Tesh - is not even remotely bluegrass, on this or any planet. The phenomenal talent of NK's Chris Thile, though, is undeniable in the film's most transcendent moment, a mandolin workshop wherein he, Ronnie McCoury and Tim O'Brien trade impossibly fast, Chuck Berry-inspired licks on Bill Monroe's "Bluegrass Stomp."
A well-rounded modern bluegrass dcoumentary
Matthew F. Merta | Hamtramck, MI USA | 06/06/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is not the first documentary on bluegrass music (High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music and Gather at the River are more recent outings), nor is this an attempt to show an unadulterated audience a definition of bluegrass music. Instead, it takes the success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? phenomenon and shows the viewer what else the genre, its musicians and its followers offer to a newcomer.
From the opening sequence, we see how determined and tenacious a bluegrass fan can be. Dobro maestro Jerry Douglas and Nickel Creek's Chris Thile are performing together at a recent Grey Fox festival, in the pouring rain, yet the wet onlookers number many, all the while accepting the weather conditions and enjoying themselves immensely. One of the two main focuses in the documentary is on the said Grey Fox festival, showing in various scenes the opening of the gates, spectators setting up both the camps and their personal seating, artists that perform throughout the week, interaction of artists and audience, and the eternal jamming. Gems among these scenes include the evening performance of the Del McCoury Band and Del's interaction with the audience for song suggestions. This shows to the viewer not familiar with the genre or a bluegrass festival how close-knit the artists really are with the audience.
There is the often-repeated talk of how bluegrass got started with Bill Monroe and his band, but this is kept to a minimum. Instead, the viewer is given glimpses of where it has gone and its many branches. From that historical reference we are thrown into a rousing performance by traditionalists Bob Paisley & The Southern Grass.
The second main focus of the documentary, the International Bluegrass Music Association "World of Bluegrass" annual convention and awards ceremony, help to show that bluegrass aficionados have a high regard for the music and a great respect for themselves and others directly involved by giving distinguished awards to those that the more popular Grammy Awards tend to overlook.
Throughout the film, we see the variances of the bluegrass theme. Tim O'Brien shows us his Celtic influences, Nickel Creek performs its progressive stylings, and The Krueger Brothers import their European ties. There are also performances and scenes from one of O'Brien's tours, and a number of performances at both the festival and the IBMA convention from artists of all levels.
The non-performance coverage has its ups and downs. The scenes regarding the oncoming rainstorm at the festival helps to show that these outings are not perfect, and the true fans take it all in stride. There is some coverage of the popular workshops, but this could have been extended out more (especially the large workshop/jam that Pete Wernick presents to the audience on the main stage). Likewise, the coverage of a pagan-themed wedding has way too much coverage, and leaves the viewer feeling that perhaps this was a main event at the festival rather than the music. This material should have been dealt with as a 10-second sidenote.
Must-see performances include Jerry Douglas and guitar wizard Tony Rice joining Peter Rowan on the classic "Hobo Song," DMB's "Rain & Snow" and "Baltimore Jenny" (let these be a lesson on how a good bluegrass band should work with one or two microphones), and Don Rigsby & Friends' late-night jam of "These Old Blues." A beautiful Tony Rice solo performance of the "Shenandoah/Danny Boy" medley helps to bring the documentary to a solid, positive close.
Bluegrass Journey has made its rounds showcasing at both bluegrass festivals and independent film festivals. It is currently being shown on numerous PBS affiliates. While there are some weaknesses to the overall production, the numerous stellar performances make this documentary a worthwhile purchase for the personal video library. (Matt Merta, The Bluegrass Journal) "
Not quite perfect
Scothia | California | 07/25/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Bluegrass Journey" (2004, directed by Ruth Oxenberg) highlights some fantastic moments in American acoustic music, and should appeal to aficionados of both traditional bluegrass (Del McCoury Band, Bob Paisley and Southern Grass) and newgrass (Nickel Creek, The Texas Trio) with a bone thrown to Celtic music as well (Tim O'Brien and The Crossing). The camera work is at times stunning, putting us not just right on stage at the Grey Fox Festival, but intimately close to instruments played expertly and with great affection. The offerings by Dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas are by themselves worth the price of the DVD.
The director inexplicably included a grating scene of a New Age wedding which not only adds absolutely nothing to the film, but detracts from it. One can only speculate as to why she deemed this worthy of our attention, but omitted any portrayal of the hymns and Sunday morning Gospel sings which are integral to the genre, and which grace almost every bluegrass festival I've ever heard of.
The unfortunate wedding scene notwithstanding, "Bluegrass Journey" is a worthwhile tribute to a truly American art form."
This dvd got me thru a cold Chicago winter
frmertd202 | Lake George, MO | 03/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"All I can say about this was "wow!!". What a documentary! Highly recommended."
Some good music on here, but...
Tracy Latham | Nashville, TN USA | 11/09/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"If you are looking for a quintessential Bluegrass music documentary, then this one isn't it. This video does two things well. It showcases a small subset of innovative artists who have branched out from playing traditional bluegrass. It gives you some interesting insight into the culture of Bluegrass festivals.
If you dig Chris Thile, the McCoury's or Tim O'Brian you will absolutely love it."