3 Recent Folk Music Films Worth Watching

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Art Credit: Mumford & Sons

Springtime makes me crave live concerts, but my work schedule doesn't always permit it. So I've recently come to watching live-concert and music-themed films to fill the void. To my surprise, I've found a wealth of recent films, whether on Showtime or Netflix, that are guaranteed to rock your socks off.

Mumford & Sons

Road to Red Rocks

If you haven't heard of the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, be prepared to swoon through this entire live-concert recording. Red Rocks, ten miles west of Denver, is a striking outdoor music venue surrounded by a mountain rock formation that naturally provides perfect acoustics and offers seating for up to 9,450 people. To go see a concert there would be incredible, and to see Mumford & Sons live there would be a dream come true.  The closest most of us can get to this is the live concert on DVD.

Be prepared for musical perfection, with countless people and instruments on stage working together for spot-on timing and harmonies and perfectly synchronized lighting and effects. Not to mention the multitasking genius of Marcus Mumford playing guitar, singing lead vocals, all while banging a kick drum with his foot. The group put on such a high-energy, flawless show that it literally choked me up the first time I watched it. After such an exhilarating performance one can almost understand why Mumford & Sons decided to take a break. Live shows like this take a toll mentally and physically. Here's to hoping they get back together, and soon.  In the meantime, you can catch this iconic recording on Showtime.

Another Day/Another Time

Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis

I ran across this Showtime concert produced by The Coen Brothers and T-Bone Burnett by accident.  I sat down to watch it one night and my mind was completely blown. The show, which was recorded live last September in New York City's Town Hall, features a collaborative mix of new and old artists in jaw-dropping, live performances, even moving Marcus Mumford to tears at one point, looking on while others practiced in the recording studio. You’ll hear such folk-savvy favorites such as Jack White (The White Stripes), The Avett Brothers, Marcus Mumford, Chris Thile (Nickel Creek and The Punch Brothers), and a plethora of newer artists teaming up with folk music all stars—Gillian Welch, Joan Baez, and Patty Smith (just to name a few)—producing a film like nothing you’ve ever seen or heard.

Among standout performances was Lake Street Dive singing "Go Down Smooth" (which, last time I checked, was available for free download on Google Play; thank me later) or basically any song Chris Thile played on mandolin. Another? Cary Mulligan, who acted in the film Inside Llewyn Davis, coming out to sing. Filled with gems, the album from this concert is said to be  released later this year. In the meantime, catch the film on Showtime.

Greenwich Village

Music that Defined a Generation

In this documentary, Susan Sarandon narrates about life as a musician in 1960s Greenwich Village. Prepare to see a side of people, life, and music you’ve only ever heard your parents talk about. You’ll see the pioneers of folk music bringing viewers back in time to what the music scene used to be like in their bohemian era—when these people and their songs stood for something. They sang about the war that was killing their friends and family. They were living in a time where they didn't have the choice to sign up for duty, a time when they were told to fight for a government that would let them die but not vote. It was a time when names like Pete Seeger, Kris Kristofferson, Arlo Guthrie, Lucy and Carly Simon, and Bob Dylan weren't  yet well-known. And, most beautifully, it was a time when people from all walks of life gathered around Washington Square fountain every Sunday and played music, no matter your instrument, no matter your song. Music overcame all barriers of race, religion, and politics and brought them all together.

Most performers of these Greenwich Village golden years were starving artists playing in dingy, smelly, hole-in-the-wall hangouts. But the songs they sang had meaning. It’s a refreshing sight in a day when much of our current generation's music is created in auditions on some semi-scripted television show that promises singers a record deal if they perform a pre-written song and provide on-camera drama to keep viewers intrigued. Let's face it, there isn't a whole lot of this stuff that will still be around in thirty years. Detox with this excellent documentary on Netflix, Amazon, or iTunes.