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VIDEOS: Film producers looking for funding to complete Peter Rowan documentary

2012 February 16
by Steve Ide
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The producers of a documentary called “The Tao of Bluegrass – A Portrait of Peter Rowan” are seeking funding to complete the film about the native of Wayland, Mass., a well-loved almost cult-like figure who has entranced fans of progressive bluegrass music everywhere. Rowan, a former member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, spent about one year in 1964 with the Father of Bluegrass before forging his own path in a multitude of groups. Though his musical journey began well before that, performing rockabilly and blues, he was later influenced by the first generation bluegrass performers and the 60s folk revival. (Read Rowan’s biography.)

Rowan’s participation with Jerry Garcia in the seminal group Old and In The Way, along with other progressive groups like New Grass Revival, forged my early interest in bluegrass music. But Rowan can be a dividing line between traditionalists who prefer their dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass music of old and the more contemporary players who seek not to define or pigeonhole what bluegrass is today. Rowan never has never been afraid to experiment with a new sound.

Rowan spent a good deal of his time in Massachusetts at the Hillbilly Ranch and Club 47 (now Passim) in Cambridge. On his web site he states: “Mandolinist Joe Val taught me all the Blue Sky Boys and the Louvin Brothers songs.” A bluegrass festival in honor of the late Joe Val takes place starting tomorrow in Fraimingham, Mass.

Peter Rowan performs with his bluegrass band at the 2011 Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. Photo by Stephen Ide

Peter Rowan performs with his bluegrass band at the 2011 Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. Photo by Stephen Ide

At age 69 now (he turns 70 on July 4), Rowan has returned to a more traditional styles with his own bluegrass band, some of his zen-like writings have caused some of my friends to roll their eyes, particularly when he retells the story of writing the song “The Walls of Time” with Bill Monroe. To me, it’s just great music, and his epic CD “Dust Bowl Children,” arguably a nod to Woody Guthrie, is both thematic and affecting.

The documentary will include interviews with Vassar Clements, Tony Rice, Drew Emmitt, Richard Greene, Laurie Lewis, Ricky Skaggs, Steve Earle, Tim O’Brien, Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, David Grisman, David Rawlings, Sam Bush and many others, most of whom have performed with Rowan over time.

For more details about the documentary and how you can help, visit the Kickstarter website.

Here are some recent videos of Rowan:

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