I'm very pleased to present The Mast Farm Inn Sessions (A Study In Songwriting), a new String Theory Media short doc, available here for the first time. It's about 25 minutes long. Background and commentary follow.
I shot, directed and edited this pretty much solo, though I had some terrific help from the good folks at the Mast Farm Inn and later from Editrix Anne. It is however a co-production with and made possibly by Mr. Henri Deschamps, owner of the Inn and a champion of bluegrass music. It's been a wonderful experience getting to know Henri, first through his extraordinary Facebook community The Bluegrass Legacy, then in person as we worked on this film. Henri hired me to document a first-of-its-kind clinic/seminar that he cooked up at his gorgeous little farm-like hideaway in spectacular Valle Crucis, North Carolina. He's been hosting small concerts and supporting emerging artists for some time, and he thought it might be a good thing to create a mentoring experience where veterans could help emerging artists with songwriting and other elements of the music.
And what veterans he recruited...
To his credit, Henri didn't offer direction or restriction. He did not insist that any certain things be in or not in the final film. He merely said capture what happens. I promised to be inconspicuous at the classes and respectful of the process. I hasten to add that he also had nothing to do with or say about the amount of time he gets on camera. He agreed to an interview and in many ways he provides the narrative line of the film. He also offers its benediction and its philosophy. I couldn't see telling this story in any other way, and I just want to assure anyone who wonders that Henri was not doing this to show off how much he cares about this music. That's just a byproduct of a true enthusiast who's decided to do rather than cheer from the sidelines.
Production was a truly blissful experience. The place, as you'll see, is serene and beautiful. And the people involved were absolutely wonderful and sharing, not to mention talented. I thank them for being uninhibited around me in a very short amount of time and for sitting down and sharing the experience in real time with me. I told the folks (we never knew what to call them; campers and students both seemed wrong) that I'd let them excise any shot from the final film that made them uncomfortable. And to my amazement, not one of them asked for any changes. (Young people will put just any old thing out on the internet.) They green-lit this as more than a memento, so we'll be shopping it to film festivals and inviting people to share or screen it wherever. The artists want careers after all, and we're thrilled to give fans a glimpse perhaps of some new stars in the making.
My own sense of mission about this film was strong from the start. I wanted to try to capture one of the finest things I've come to know about bluegrass, and that is its giving, pass-the-knowledge kind of culture. At one point Scott in the film says that there can be an exclusive club-like quality to certain picking circles of cliques of musicians. And that can be true, but I think everyone including him would agree that there's also a vast amount of information sharing and inspiration passing that goes on in the community. I am on the board of directors of the International Bluegrass Music Association because I think so highly about the bluegrass business and community and the music's place in our culture. This film was in no way sanctioned by the IBMA. They haven't even seen it. But I would like to dedicate the film to IBMA's mission of perpetuating bluegrass music across borders and generations. I think you'll agree that with teachers and learners this passionate and sincere, that will be going on for a long time to come.