- December 23, 2020
- Henry Carrigan
- Artist Spotlight
by Henry Carrigan (@henry.carrigan), Folk Alley
Something magical happens at concerts when the lights go up, the musicians walk onstage and hit those first notes on their instruments or belt out the first few phrases of a song. We’re transported, carried away from the worries that occupy our lives, and for a few hours we live on another plane, reveling in the sound. In those moments, we even feel solidarity with those around us in the auditorium or bar or park. It’s the music, and even without lyrics, the intensity of the music itself floods our hearts and souls, calling forth emotional responses which we sometimes don’t expect. During those few hours at the show, the musicians invite us to join them to dwell in the music, to inhabit and to let it inhabit us, and to be in union with them, to feel that we know them as well as they know us.
Watching Mark Moskowitz’s new 10-episode film series It Was the Music captures palpably for us such relationships between musician and audience and the magic of the music. It Was the Music is about what music means to us,” says Moskowitz, “the way my film, Stone Reader, is about what books means to us, and my upcoming film, Art Stops Here, is about what art means to us. In the end, these films are about us, how people respond to the arts. Not quite documentary, not quite reality, not quite memoir, not quite even story, It Was the Music is referential, memory-like. It’s allusive. Things touch other things…much like a song.”
Moskowitz stumbled upon the subjects of his film, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, one of the first couples of Americana music, almost by accident. “He wasn’t even supposed to be there that night. He just happened to be nearby visiting his mother, I think, and his son brought him to the show,” Williams recalls. “We were doing a show at the Ardmore Music Hall in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. After the show we were talking and signing, and at the end of the line this guy had been hanging back until the end. He came up to us and said, ‘I’m a filmmaker.’ At the time, we just kind of rolled our eyes, but he gave us his card, and we gave it to our manager. As it turned out, he was legitimate; he actually followed up. Looking back, the film came out of this confluence of events that make you just look up at the sky and go ‘really?’ A few years ago, I was sitting in my apartment in NYC and reading the NYTimes. I came across this blurb about this movie about books; I cut it out and saved it so I could watch the movie. It took me a while to realize it was the same guy,” says Williams.
What happened after Moskowitz introduced himself, followed up, and started shooting turned out to be magical, too. As Campbell recalls, “it pretty quickly became clear that Mark was sincere. He was really passionate about music and making this film. There was a kind of vague outline, but the film was going to be what it wanted to be. It follows what really matters in life.” Indeed, as Williams confirms, “we were all passionate about music and that was the linchpin. The plan was that he was going to follow us around to 15 or 16 shows.”
It Was the Music provides a candid glimpse into the lives of musicians and fans. Moskowitz follows Campbell and Williams over 15 months on the road as they travel from Williams’ farm in Peckerwood Point, Tennessee, to the couple’s home in Woodstock, New York, and to record stores, clubs, recording studios, and theatres across the country. Moskowitz weaves footage of individual performances at small and large venues around the duo’s interaction with their fans following the shows, through interviews with friends and fellow musicians from Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal, Jackson Browne, William Bell, Happy Taum, and Phil Lesh, among others, and around the ups and downs of their personal lives. There are moments between Campbell and Williams that reveal deep tensions and in which anger flashes, but they couple never once considered turning away from the film. As Campbell, says, “if we’re going to do this, we were going to do it with honesty, sincerity, authenticity. The good and the bad have to be there, as long as it serves a point.” Recalling those scenes, Williams laughs a little and says that such scenes “teach us all a lesson. It kind of frees me up some when I express myself honestly, and watching the film I feel kind of freed up some.”
It Was the Music reveals how one couple’s deep love for each other and for making music produces the raw, aching intimacy and intensity of their songs and the ways that they and the music invite the fans into their intense intimacy. As Williams says, “the film is about what happens between the person on the stage delivering the songs and that fan in the third row center, that spark of magic spark between musicians and fans. Why does it work? How does music bring everyone together? What makes art heal? Music really is magic. Music is the glue between us. It’s a primal thing for the human race; even without lyrics, music moves us.” Campbell hopes that, in addition, the film series will encourage viewers and fans to “follow your passion. Be true to that search, and you’re gonna end up finding who you want to be with, finding something you want to do, finding fulfillment.”
In addition, the soundtrack of the film is now available, and it includes previously unreleased renditions of classic songs by the Band, Grateful Dead, Little Feat, and more.