1971 was a banner year for bluegrass music. It had come of age the decade before, following its invention as a musical style by Bill Monroe in the mid-1940s. Little known, except by country music fans for its first twenty years, it had begun blossoming among a much wider audience on a national scale, helped by film soundtracks and national TV broadcasts involving bluegrass musicians.
It was in 1971 that filmmaker Albert Idhe, then in his 20s, stumbled upon a festival produced by Monroe’s friend Carlton Haney in Camp Springs, NC. The festival, held over Labor Day weekend, attracted over 10,00 fans and featured performances by Earl Scruggs & The Earl Scruggs Revue, Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, J.D. Crowe, Chubby Wise, The Osborne Brothers, The Country Gentlemen, Mac Wiseman, The Lilly Brothers, Tex Logan, Don Stover, The Bluegrass Alliance, The Bluegrass 45, Del McCoury, The New Deal String Band, and (unusually for such a festival) Roy Acuff, among others. The result was a documentary film, Bluegrass Country Soul, released by Time/Life videos, which became a cult favorite beginning in 1972.
Albert and his wife Ellen stopped by my home recently for a visit. I’d wanted to know more about the film for a long time. It’s a significant movie in that it documents a time when the music began to extend itself into new sounds and styles, not the least of which was then called progressive bluegrass, which melded urban rock and roll and pop music into the genre. The second generation of country musicians, such as Del McCoury, JD Crowe and Doyle Lawson joined young city dwellers such as those in the Country Alliance with far flung bands like the Bluegrass 45 from Japan to broaden the spectrum of sound. They joined older “originals” such as Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, and Chubby Wise, all there to share their sounds with fans young and old alike.
Albert had written a screenplay around a fictitious country star, but his backers were more interested in a documentary about a rural music festival. He’d never really encountered such music before and was fascinated by what he heard. Soon, he was bringing a team of professionals with lights, sound equipment, and three 16-mm cameras down to North Carolina for the weekend’s activities. The film became a best seller but is now out of print. That situation will soon be remedied with a special Golden Anniversary edition of the film, to be released in a deluxe box set containing Blue Ray and DVD prints of the film, a coffee table book on its making and many other goodies. Idhe is soliciting supporters to help with the release. Those who contribute $100 or more can have their names listed in the film’s credits. (Deadline for this is April 30, 2019.)
For more information on the film, visit Albert’s website. CLICK HERE.