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Priceless but Flawed
on August 3, 2005
This is a rare collection of once-in-a-lifetime performances, enhanced by well-edited videography and spectacular surround sound. I'm very glad I bought it.
But it should have been so much more.
I'll get my negative criticisms out of the way up front:
- Too many performances are cut off or interrupted by interviews. With all the talk about this festival being "about the music," you'd think the filmmakers would have had more respect for it.
- Too much of the interview content is self-congratulatory and some of it is too "inside." Yes, it's the Festival's 30th Anniversary and they're all very proud. We get it. But this isn't a souvenir for people who were there. It's the one chance most of us who'll never get there will have to experience the festival. Show us more. Talk about it less.
- Several of the headliners who appeared at the actual festival in 2003, such as Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin, are not represented on this disc (probably for contractual reasons).
- It's too short. Less than two hours, with no extras whatsoever. Only one song from each artist's set (and no songs from some artists' sets), and one can't help but wonder about what was left out and why. (The only Flecktones song has Victor Wooten sitting out.)
Having said that, looking at this as a documentary rather than a concert video, I was thoroughly entertained and occasionally moved and astonished. So many of the legends of "newgrass" are here -- Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Mike Marshall, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, John Cowan -- playing in various combinations with their own bands, with each other, with young artists, that the lines blur from one song to the next.
It's a treat to see Meyer, Bush, and Marshall play "BT" from "Sort Trip Home;" the Alison Brown Band's spectacular "Going to Glasgow" fusion of jazz, celtic, and bluegrass presages her wonderful recent material. There's plenty of traditional bluegrass from Hot Rize and the Yonder Mountain String Band, and interesting performances from younger acts like Casey Chambers and String Chees Incident.
As a movie, the whole thing works pretty well, mixing all these performances with backstage chatter and commentary. Unfortunately, one of the benchmarks for judging concert videos is rewatchability, and the occasional interrupted/incomplete performance plus the inability to skip the between-song chatter makes the disc less rewatchable than it could have been.
The videography and editing are excellent, with the focus pretty much always correctly on whoever's soloing or singing, and without too much jumpy cutting or weird camera moves (the exception being String Cheese's song, where the editor apparently decided to get a little freaky, and just embarrasses himself).
The sound is spectacular, clean and detailed. The DTS surround mix puts you right on the stage with instruments all around you. Some people may not like this as much as I did; it does compromise the "liveness" of the sound, since the audience seems somewhat small and distant. I was thrilled by a live performance with sound this intimate.
This is great music, spectacularly performed; shot and recorded perfectly. It would be a 5-star DVD if the filmmakers had not chosen to repeatedly remove their focus from the music and spend so much of this too-short film telling us how wonderful the Festival is.