On May 24, 2000, the historic Ryman Auditorium was booked to offer Nashvillians an evening of sublime beauty. Label executives and soundtrack producers so loved the music of O Brother, Where Art Thou? that they brought it ... more »to life as a benefit concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen loved it so much that they hired famed documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker to record the show for posterity. The concert that unfolded that night was one of the greatest musical moments in the annals of Music City. Performers: John Hartford, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Chris Thomas King, The Cox Family, Fairfield Four, Union Station, Colin Linden, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, The Peasall Sisters, Ralph Stanley, David Rawlings, The Whites. 98 minutes.« less
Russ R. (russtacean) from JEFFERSONVLLE, VT Reviewed on 7/25/2010...
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Frank E. (realartist) from HENDERSONVLLE, NC Reviewed on 10/12/2009...
The term "Bluegrass" means different things to different people. For those who have only seen "pickers and grinners" at some local fair, probably have a slightly off base perception of the music, as being very fast tempo, fast fret work, and pretty repetitive. This is because for every well known banjo, mandolin, fiddle, guitar and bass player group, there are dozens of well meaning wannabees who know the basic 'riffs', but have nothing original, or musically sensitive and imaginative to offer.
The whole genre has its origins deep in American history-in particular those poor, "huddled masses" who left England, Scotland and Ireland, and landless poverty, with the dream of a new beginning and land ownership in vast, new America. What they found were most of the good land already taken. Many of them wound up in the Appalachian mountain chain, where land was cheap or free, or could just be occupied without payment , just 'squatting' on wild, unoccupied, uninhabited territory. There they met the same hard life and poverty they wanted to escape. Opening up some forest for farming, and for livestock resulted in farms too small to make a living selling produce, or livestock, but could just barely eke out a subsistance. A tremendous industry of logging took place exploiting the rich timber available. Yet after working as loggers, these immigrants still could not afford to buy land.( exploited cheap labor ) Following this, there was the Civil War. Mountain folk did not have enough land to warrant slaves, nor was buying a slave even remotely possible - yet you would find yourself executed for refusing to join the Rebel Army. Most of the menfolk were killed, leaving orphans and widows who could not pay the taxes on the land. "Carpetbaggers' from the North came down in droves , paid the taxes, and took the farms homes, barns and land, leaving the orphans and widows homeless. From this endless privation, hardship, and sorrow, a large number of sad songs from Ireland, and other places remained pure and intact. This is true "Mountain Music". It isn't all quick tempo barn dance. "Bluegrass players" focus on this, thinking that this is what people want...upbeat, happy, dance music. When in fact, there are a lot of beautiful sad songs as well as hymns that are part of the genre - owing to the fact that little local churches were places of refuge in times of deep sorrow and loss. This also includes the Black Folks, and their separate local churches and the distinctive coloration African music added to the mix of sad, slow tempo hymns, so very "bluesey" in sound. These two genres mixed together and produced
America's very own unique musical sound that is popular worldwide and imitated by even such groups as Pink Floyd, Joe Cocker, and other so called 'blues rock' artists from England...blatant copies of this American genre of music, so full of soul, and emotional expression.
The movie producers and writers, Ethan and Joel Coen are not dumb. Any writer wants to go down in history as writing "The Great American Novel". With this motive in mind, they set out to capture the culture that is directly responsible for this great music.
This is the music we all heard in the blockbuster success, "Oh Brother , Where Art Thou". Even the Coen brothers were astounded at the popularity of the movie and the music. The music simply strikes a chord with most of us...when done properly, correctly, and by authentic, creative, and gifted musicians, vocalists, and song writers. Here they all are on one DVD for you to enjoy and be marveled by. Allison Kraus, Gillian Welch, John Hartford,Emmy Lou Harris, and many others, not the least of which are the acapella group of black men who add the real, true, and final touch to the whole scene.
This is real, true , and genuine Mountain Music. Old, venerable Ralph Stanley points out in the narrative, that we can call it "Bluegrass" if we want to...but it has less to do with Kentucky than it does with Mountain Folk. This is a wonderful concert put on by the Coen Brothers which brought all the principal players and singers together for a stellar show you will never forget as long as you live. Do NOT miss the opportunity to own this DVD.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Thelma C. Johnson | Cookeville, TN USA | 07/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie, part stage show and part local color with a good bit of nostalgia thrown in, is breathtaking, riveting, spellbinding, transcendent. It begins with a night tour of Nashville's exciting places; from the limo window we see Tootsie's, the Ryman Auditorium, Second Avenue, Lower Broadway. We share our ride with Ralph Stanley, who has "come down from the mountain." We spend time backstage at the Ryman while the performers are waiting their turns, and eavesdrop on John Hartford as he spins a tale about wanting to be a librarian. We listen to a couple of blues players talk about their work and discover that Emmylou Harris is a baseball fan. The show itself is country at its best. Rock and roll doesn't show its face; there are no gyrations or big hats or shrill voices. Just country, with memories of the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and a plethora of old time musicians who sang of hard times and death and endurance. We will always remember Emmylou Harris's sweet, true voice, Allison Krause's melodic outpouring, and Gillian Welch's beautiful harmony. We'll remember the Peasall sisters and the Fairfield Four and Ralph Stanley; but most of all, we'll remember the magic moment when John Hartford began to sing "Big Rock Candy Mountain." It was one of his last performances before he succumbed to cancer, but his voice was steady and strong, and his hands sure on the violin. This was old time music as it should be, and even the newer songs sounded old. It reminds us of how far modern country music has strayed from its roots, and how easy and pleasant it is to go back to them again."
Glorious Heartland Sounds, But...
Paul Frandano | Reston, Va. USA | 12/26/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Down from the Mountain opens with the inimitable, keening tenor of Ralph Stanley, over a photomontage that takes us, literally, down from the mountain with the Stanley Brothers. The filmmakers and their sound recorders have captured the grace, beauty, and power of the music T-Bone Burnett assembled for the Coen Brothers picture. Although this is primarily a concert film, the performers offer some insights into the music, including Dr. Stanley's by now well-known comments on the roots of "bluegrass" and his general preference for other terminology to describe just what it is he sees himself as performing up there on the stage. It's also interesting to hear the great "high tenor" observe that this is music one is born into--the solitariness of life in the deep backwoods, that Stanley credits for his "lonesome" sound--rather than a thing easily acquired by outsiders. The movie then jumps to a variety of outsiders, who discovered "bluegrass" in collegetown record bins, and their less appealing ruminations on the music. Here we have Gillian Welch, for example, who has a lovely voice and writes pretty songs, revealing herself as precisely the kind of artist with whom Stanley, elsewhere (in a New Yorker profile, of all things), has said he'd rather not play. (And he does look distinctly uncomfortable in their midst.) The filmmakers capture Welch--inadvertently, I think--in what struck me an entirely too condescending a disposition. As a result, her time on screen seems much too long, particularly when there are Allison Krausses and Emmy Lou Harrises in the house. Once the concert gets rolling, the performances all sparkle, with those by The Fairfield Four, Krauss and her Union Station band (with Dan Tyminski), and Stanley (again, his hair-raising "Oh, Death") sparkling and then some. The courageousness of concert host, fiddler, raconteur, and riverboat pilot extraordinaire John Hartford, who would soon die of cancer, is most moving, quite apart from the conviction and emotional power of his music. And the picture and sound quality of this particular DVD is superior. (Spot the celebrities in the audience and win a cigar...)I docked this DVD a full star for its failure to include a single performance by the film's heralded "Soggy Bottom Boys," and in particular for excluding "A Man of Constant Sorrow" as performed by the film's band, with Tyminski in the lead. (The version over which the title credits roll, with Stanley singing his own song, is exquisite, but a Soggy Bottom reprise would have been the cherry on top.) A major letdown.But I nevertheless recommend this DVD highly. There is sufficient variation between the playlist of this concert and the movie soundtrack to warrant the purchase of both. Both indeed comprise "greatest hits" lists for America's great and glorious "down-home old-time mountain music" (pace Dr. Stanley and his terminological exactitude)."
Hook up the surroundsound and pass the bluegrass please!
Debra K. Wylie | Bloomington, IL United States | 08/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I wasn't sure that a documentary about bluegrass music was going to be something that a) I would enjoy, b) something I would find compelling or c) something that would turn me onto an area of music and performances enough to make me rethink my former country snobbishness. "Down from the Mountain" made me a convert on all the above bases and more. This documentary-style film about the music and artists who comprise the soundtrack for "Oh, Brother, Where art Thou?" include the immense talents of Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch. These women have ways of lovingly massaging a ballad until it truly has a life of it's own. The soulful words and melodies of family artists like the Whites, and the Cox family are wonderfully done, as are the younger performers who get to ramp up the tempo for their rendition of "Highways and the Hedges". Then there's the wonderfully dry-witted John Hartford, who takes a few moments aside from his emcee responsibilities to give a toe-tapping rendition of "Big Rock Candy Mountain". The film takes you for a backstage pass (OK, is Emmylou Harris THAT big of a baseball fan!) AND a front row performance in the acoustically amazing Ryman Theatre. Through a mix of gospel, bluegrass, blues and country, the viewer gets a real treat of hearing and seeing what was the musical underpinning for the Coen brother's blockbuster film. You might very well meet some new musical artists in this video. I did. They seem to bear a different countenance from other contemporary artists, demonstrating a solid reliance on song style, harmonies, acoustics, and ultimately bringing "everything out but the kitchen sink" in their delivery, and that was it for me. The words are familiar and the songbirds beckon, come smile, cry, clap your hands, or sing, "Hallelujah!", mountain life is pretty good and your journey's just beginning."
Refreshing, uplifting, amazing
Dwight Karlsen | Phoenix, AZ | 11/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You're not going to be able to find another DVD that has all these legendary performers going up one by one to the same stage to perform for the same audience. So if you enjoy "old-timey mountain music", i.e. bluegrass, then just buy this DVD, and prepare to watch and listen again and again.
I have quite a few music DVDs, and I think the quality of this one is superior:
1) It's recorded in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround sound.
2) Another reviewer complained about grainy video, but they just need to get a higher quality TV: I have a flat-screen Sony WEGA TV, and the picture is crisp and sharp.
3) Several reviewers have complained about the placement of the backstage conversations, and even the pre-concert footage. Suffice to say that since we weren't the directors, then it's not our decision. All concert DVDs have this extra footage; it's what people expect. I have music/concert DVDs where between every song are long rambling philosophical sermons by band members. It's like, hello! Put that stuff at the end instead of forcing it on people. That's not the case with this DVD. They do cut away near the end of a song by The Cox Family, but they're "keepin' it real", and you have to expect some of that on a concert DVD. Just be glad they didn't slip in some studio-shot music videos! (Like some other music DVDs that shall remain nameless.)
4) I would buy this just for the Cox Family performing "(Will There Be Any) Stars In My Crown," which is a pure bonus, since it was not in the "O Brother Where Art Thou?" movie soundtrack (which I have). In fact this is my favorite song performance of the whole DVD.
5) Some reviewers have complained about the lack of a "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow" performance. My suggestion to those who pine for that song is to simply buy the "O Brother Where Art Thou?" movie soundtrack, and you will be the proud owner of no less than four different renditions on four different tracks, by four different blends of musicians. Bon appetite!
6) Lastly, I commend the directors, because in my opinion the screen shots and camera angles were just right. I don't want to have the camera shots jiggling and jumping around like a drunk monkey has ahold of the camera, and I don't want to just see one straight-on view, either. The directors find the right balance in this DVD, with a nice variety of close-ups of the singers and wider-angle stage shots.
Just buy this DVD and enjoy."
Lee Armstrong | Winterville, NC United States | 09/10/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The music on this DVD is exquisite. It is so nice to see John Hartford one last time. His dry witty humor was well in tact on this release. When he sings about "the jerk who invented work" on "Big Rock Candy Mountain," I started to howl with laughter. Canadian Colin Linden isn't very well known in the USA, but he's been a favorite of mine since I discovered his "Raised By Wolves" CD. It's nice to have a bit of blues with the bluegrass; and he teams with Chris Thomas King on "John Law Burned Down the Liquor Sto'." Both the Whites and the Cox Family do great little sets, very endearing. The Peasall Sisters are real scene-stealers with "Highways & the Hedges." Alison Krauss is in great voice, perhaps a bit shy on stage, but sings so beautifully. Emmylou Harris is a delight, and funny backstage as the baseball enthusiast. David Rawlings was visually very interesting as his face contorts to wrench emotion as he plays and sings. Gillian Welch does a good job and gets a lot of screen time in this cut. The Fairfield 4's harmonies are classic. Of course, Ralph Stanley is a timeless treasure. Like others, I would have preferred to have the whole concert with the backstage antics as part of a bonus section on the CD; but T-Bone Burnett did an excellent job bringing this music together. I also enjoyed Holly Hunter's humorous opening introduction about John Hartford & the FBI. The DVD is well worth celebrating these artists and this blissful music. Enjoy!"