A film by Yasha Aginsky
This hour-long documentary celebrates fifty years of the New Lost City Ramblers (Mike Seeger, John Cohen, Tracy Schwarz and Tom Paley.) Among the first urban musicians to seriously pursue the old-time music traditions of the American South, the New Lost City Ramblers became stars of the 1960s folk revival, appearing at Newport Folk Festival and touring widely in the U.S. and Europe. They inspired generations of younger musicians to explore America’s traditional music, from elder statesman Bob Dylan to banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck to the contemporary African-American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, all of whom participated in the film.
ALWAYS BEEN A RAMBLER reveals the Ramblers as musicologists as well as expert musicians, showing them side-by-side with traditional musicians including Dock Boggs, Maybelle Carter, and Doc Watson. Beginning with archival footage of the early NLCR from their start in the late 1950s, the film shows the Ramblers with some of their mentors. Octogenarian banjo picker George Landers gently teases the young acolytes in between tunes, and a Greenwich Village jam session features Clarence Ashley with a young Doc Watson. Nearly fifty years later, the Ramblers chat with musician friends including Doc Watson, Maria Muldaur, and Del McCoury.
Live footage of onstage performances, rehearsals, and informal music-making are combined with a wealth of archival material, with footage of the New Lost City Ramblers as a trio and with other musicians, both well known (“Freight Train” composer Elizabeth Cotten, Mike’s older brother Pete Seeger) and obscure (octogenarian banjo picker George Landers). Extensive use of stills paints a portrait of earlier musical eras: rare late 1800s photos of rural American string bands, photos from the first wave of 1920s commercially-recorded old time music, folk music parties of the 1950s that gave rise to the New Lost City Ramblers, family photos from Seeger, Cohen and Schwarz, and photos of some of the 1960s and 70s old time string bands that were inspired by the Ramblers.
Director Yasha Aginsky has combined backyard and living room music sessions, live festival and concert performances, and informal interviews with a wealth of archival footage, photos and music to create a portrait of these men who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of the old-time music of the American South. The film includes more than fifty old-time songs by more than fifty old-time musicians, played on all kinds of American folk instruments, including fiddle, banjo, jew’s harp, autoharp, mandolin, guitar, Cajun accordion, and even spoons.
In addition to the New Lost City Ramblers themselves, some of the other musicians appearing in the film include Clarence Ashley, the Balfa Brothers with Nathan Abshire, Maybelle and Sara Carter, Elizabeth Cotten, Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, Foghorn Duo, Rayna Gellert, David Grisman, Roscoe Holcomb, Pete Seeger, Ricky Skaggs, and many other contemporary and historical masters of old time music.
Directed, edited and written by Yasha Aginsky
Narrated by David Holt
Produced by Chris Strachwitz, Suzy Thompson, and Tom Diamant