Folk Music as Heritage in New Film

Over the weekend, I went up to Cleveland for the 30th Cleveland International Film Festival. I love the CIFF (which this year is showing 127 feature films and around 100 short subjects) because I can block out a day and see 4 or 5 movies that I would never have seen otherwise. This year, we sponsored a film called Homemade Hillbilly Jam about Mark Bilyeu and his band Big Smith. Big Smith is an old-school jugband that plays traditional songs from the Ozarks along with originals that sound like they’re old. What’s great is that this is a group of youngish guys who have decided to play the music of their parents, and their parents’ parents. In fact, Bilyeu’s parents actually play with the band a couple of times in the film. It’s the story of a man that came from Ireland in the 19th century and passed down songs and the concept that music should be played in the home. There are some great scenes where multiple generations are sitting around the livingroom playing and singing – just because they want to. Message from the movie? There’s nothing wrong with being a hillbilly and holding onto the music of your ancestors is as important as keeping a hold on your land.

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