Take a deep dive.
The Porchlight Sessions is a first-ever documentary on the bluegrass movement, as recollected by historical patriarchs of the movement including Dr. Ralph Stanley and Doc Watson, then follows through to modern-day musicians including Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Béla Fleck, Steve Martin, Del McCoury, Bobby Osborne, Trampled by Turtles, Mumford & Sons, The Infamous Stringdusters and many more Bluegrass music emerged from the crossroads of the Appalachian Mountains, where Jazz and Blues merged with Scot-Irish folk music. The movement as it began with Bill Monroe was inspired and sustained by a diversity of voices, attitudes, and approaches, contributing to the progression of modern-day bluegrass.
Filmed across the USA in lush mountain settings, festivals, and even personal homes, this documentary marks the first time the community has come together to characterize the energy and demonstrate the appeal of this influential and uniquely American musical form. “The enduring nature of the Bluegrass movement may originate from the longing in modern society to return to a simpler way of life, “ observes Anna Bek Schwaber, director of the film. The documentary artfully reveals the excitement in the movement - from the passionate insights of the founding musicians, through to the present-day creativity of mainstream acts, and even the clever aspirations of campground pickers. As a film, The Porchlight Sessions appeals to both new-to-bluegrass audiences and ardent fans by documenting the inventiveness of the human spirit, the passionate bluegrass culture, and the endless charm of its authentic, soulful music.
Meet the storytellers.
Sown in the Soul and Hand-Picked.
MAKING OF THE FILM
Growing up in Nashville, TN, I gravitated towards learning photography and spent well over 8 years in the darkroom discovering all kinds of analog formats well before the proliferation of the digital image.
Music was the common language in our community and my interest in filmmaking landed me jobs working on live concerts and events, television shows, and music videos. After working as a camera operator with rock n' roll photographer Danny Clinch, I desired to tell stories of my own that mired my love of B&W photography, archival imagery, and those precious moments on and back-stage.
Bluegrass and Folk music were not the genres of my upbringing. In fact, my father used to sneak me into Blues clubs when I was well underage. It wasn't until I befriended a banjo player in a Post-Graduate Photomedia program in Canberra, Australia that I developed my love for the music. I used to tour with him over the weekends to get away. Somewhere in my homesickness and excitement to sing with them did I grow my interest and affinity to "Re-imagine Bluegrass" from its history to today as I saw it.
As a result, The Porchlight Sessions not only features interviews and performances from the legends, but also showcases a curated glimpse deep into the archives of key moments in history. Some of my greatest memories are going through the personal estate of John Hartford and finding negatives that Nashville Portraits photographer Jim McGuire had never printed including ones of the film crew while shooting the influential 1971 documentary, Bluegrass: Country Soul. This film also drew me to Japanese group, Bluegrass 45, amongst which was dear friend Sab Watanabe who celebrated our film in his Moonshiner Magazine after several visits both while I was living in Japan and in the US.
Filming the performance of Steep Canyon Rangers' "Matterhorn" at the Station Inn, Nashville, TN 2012 on the Red Epic.
Holding our Super 8mm camera while filming some b-roll at Romp 2012 in Owensboro, KY.
Philip Daniel in Canberra, Australia shot on a Holga with 120mm film, 2007.
L to R: Stuart Duncan, Sam Bush, Del McCoury in Nashville, 2011 shot on Polaroid SX-70.
Contact sheet from the archive of Jim McGuire. Photographed at Carlton Haney's 1971 Bluegrass Festival in Camp Springs, NC.
Production began in 2009 with scenes including the first "porch" sessions at home with Abigail Washburn, The Ragweed Boys family band on a farm outside of Asheville, NC, the Infamous Stringduster while recording their latest album in Nashville, at home with Bobby Osborne, while in the workshop with mandolin and banjo luthiers Sim Daley and Robin Smith. I also shot some video portraits of festival go-ers from large-scale San Fransisco based, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park.
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"Whoop Em Up Liza Jane" - The Ragweed Boys, filmed in 2009 as one of the first "porch" performances that really put the film on the map with investors.
2010 was pivotal as attending Rockygrass in Lyons, CO afforded lots of interviews with musicians such as Sam Bush, Ben Kaufmann, David Holt, and Bryan Sutton. We later caught Doc Watson backstage before a gig in Ohio, went to the Stringduster's first ever "Festy", filmed the legendary Crooked Still campsite performance, and checked in with Jerry Douglas and Tim O'Brien from their houses in Nashville.
L to R: Sierra Hull, Alison Brown, Todd Phillips, me, Brittany Haas, Andy Hall, Matt Wingate while filming "The Porchlight Sessions Band." in 2011 on the porch of Bill Monroe.
L to R: Eric Abramson, Chris Thile, Me, Chris Cloyd while filming at Rockygrass in Lyons, CO in 2012.
2011 involved a lot of travel, including camping out while also filming for a full week at Telluride Bluegrass Festival where we learned about "Festivarian" culture, caught up with Mumford & Sons and Trampled by Turtles and rode the gondola with Peter Rowan. Back in Nashville I visited the Station Inn for the first time to get a lot of the history as told by Mike Bubb, dropped in with Bela Fleck, visited Del McCoury, Laurie Lewis, Lance LeRoy, went backstage at the Opry to interview Dr. Ralph Stanley and flew to Colorado to see Pete Wernick and to San Fransisco to find Mayne Smith. We also put together a band called The Porchlight Sessions band and were granted access to film them on Bill Monroe's porch at his home place!
L to R: Eric Valentine, me, Steve Martin, Erik Sandoval, John Harrison before Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers went on in Seattle, Washington, 2012.
Filming with Yonder Mountain Stringband in the campgrounds at the Gaia Festival in Laytonville, CA 2012.
2012 was hectic as we had been in post-production for so many tiring days, incorporating all the edits and notes of many hours and TBs of footage that had to be transcoded and synced and we raised $70k on Kickstarter!. To help craft the story, we revisited Rockygrass to catch interviews with Noam Pikelny and Chris Thile, went back to the Station Inn to film a cover with Steep Canyon Rangers, caught them as well while interviewing Steve Martin before performing in Seattle, met with Jeff Hanna and Vince Gill in Nashville, drove to Laytonville, CA based Gaia Festival to meet Yonder Mountain String band and later to Kentucky to interview Doyle Lawson on his tour bus before gathering some final b-roll at IBMM's own Romp Festival. It all came together for our World Premiers just a month later. What a wild ride!
The Porchlight Sessions first premiered on September 21st, 2012 at Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA during the FreshGrass Festival and again on September 26th, 2012 at The Franklin Theatre in Frankin, TN featuring live performances by Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers.