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DVD SAVANT

The Best of Hootenanny


The Best of Hootenanny
Shout! Factory
1963 / B&W / 1:33 flat full frame / 4.5 hrs. / Street Date January 16, 2007 / 44.98
Hosted by Jack Linkletter
Talent Consultant Fred Weintraub
Written by David Greggory
Directed by Garth Dietrick
Produced by Richard Lewine
DVD Produced by Robert S. Bader

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

When Elvis entered the Army and left the airwaves to novelty songs, other Rock 'n' Roll holdovers and young Italian men from Philadelphia, a gap opened up in pop music. Before this vacuum could be filled with the surfin' sound and the English invasion, America had a resurgence of folk music. Old folk-tradition hands such as the Weavers were joined by new voices Joan Baez and eventually Bob Dylan. Dozens of collegiate duos, trios, foursomes and entire families burst forward for recognition. The college circuit became a hot ticket for traveling singers. Not all offered renditions of Michael, Row the Boat Ashore .... only most of them.

Many of the new singing groups were young clean-cut types that sported clean short haircuts and ties, an image our parents would try to impose on us teens in the later longhair '60s. By and large, the folk music permitted on the air were fairly non-political ... the outright protest songs made famous by Woody Guthrie just weren't acceptable, and Guthrie himself simply wasn't heard much. Likewise, the only Weavers songs to be given wide radio exposure were non-political hits like Goodnight Irene. Exremely popular in concert, the blacklisted group remained blacklisted from television.

The college crowd that flocked to folk performances was the first group of post-war middle-class kids looking for new truths and ideas. They were the generation that read Mad magazine and went for the new espresso cafés. Stand-up wasn't just for New York any more and the late '50s spawned a new flock of comedic talent - Bob Newhart, Jonathan Winters, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby. Few of these funny men flirted with the notion of even appearing to be subversive, but the tone was there in their delivery. Just being sarcastic about some subjects -- government secrecy, the arms race -- might make one an 'undesirable' performer.

Although much of its audience didn't think in terms of polarities, the Folk movement of this time was mainstream-liberal. Heavily influenced by Gospel and the civil rights movement, the concert scene became a community meeting sing-a-long forum that pretended that correct-thinkers would all be in agreement on basic liberal agenda. Peace, racial harmony and spiritual values were good; intolerance and aggression were bad. The singers projected warmth, wisdom and a feeling of goodwill. Even better, the era carried a strong charge of hopefulness.

The Hootenanny TV show (1963) provided a rare opportunity to see many folk and quasi-folk groups in a variety format. The half-hour show taped on college campuses across the country and was hosted by Jack Linkletter. The best thing about Hootenanny is that the content came across intact: We see the performers doing their thing in a live situation with no playback lip-synching. Linkletter's you-are-there intros are brief and to the point, and the songs aren't interrupted by montage cuts or sponsor product placement. After The Beatles frightened network executives, later Rock 'n' Roll TV performances tended to be over-controlled ... marred by silly stage sets, synch playback and dumb 'with it' video switcher effects. Teens of the time remember Manfred Mann cracking up during a TV 'performance,' embarrassed by the phoniness of it all.

Although few outlets at the time acknowledged the dispute, Hootenanny did start a controversy in the music world. Pete Seeger was blacklisted from the show completely, causing other top names to refuse to participate, like Peter Paul & Mary. This was three years after the feature film blacklist had been broken with Spartacus. A show dedicated to the "open and free" music of America's youth censored its most interesting musicians. I certainly wasn't aware of this fact at the time, and I don't know if many columnists championed Pete Seeger or protested the blacklisting. In 1963, performers branded as 'fellow travelers' were as unwelcome as child molesters.

Shout! arranges its Best of compendium onto three music-packed discs. I don't remember the show wasting its air time with fluff and these discs likewise get right to the performances. Jack Linkletter's introductions quickly set the week's university locale, and we go right into the songs.

This is a great opportunity to see the top folk names of the time as well as singers who would go on to bigger things. Most of the collegiate groups are here -- The New Christy Minstrels, The Brothers Four -- along with scores of other acts. Crossover talent livens up the mix: Johnny Cash, Miriam Makeba, Flat & Scruggs, The Clara Ward Gospel Singers, even flautist Herbie Mann and his Sextet. It's interesting to get an earful of Carly Simon singing with her sister, or seeing Barry McGuire looking neat and trim in his top roost with the New Christy Minstrels. Judy Collins hasn't quite become the Earth Mother extraordinare but her wonderful voice is already in place.

About the closest the collection comes to a protest song is a not-particularly funny jab at the John Birch Society by The Chad Mitchell Trio. The right-wing Birchers were considered radical enough to become fair a target, I suppose.

To really enjoy Hootenanny, one has to get into an early 60s mode, when President Kennedy was in charge of Camelot and the illusion bloomed that all things were possible. Some of the 'anthem' songs like Kumbayah and If I Had A Hammer just seem silly until heard in context, where they truly express a generation's yearning for something different. Looking at all the enthused, open faces of the show's student audiences brings on pangs of nostalgia; I think I was thirteen when the 'teen cool' ethic was enforced and we were all obliged to put on masks of alienation and cynical disapproval. Although I loved the post-Beatles rock years, I also resented the intolerance of the time ... when expressing honest emotion and idealism was a cultural misdemeanor. The performances on Hootenanny don't make us want to stand up and cheer or turn back the clock, but a little nostalgia can be a fine thing.  1

Performances:

Disc 1:

Mighty Day Chad Mitchell Trio
What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor, Haul Away Joe Mike Settle
Mama Don't Allow , Froggie Went A-Courtin' The Rooftop Singers
Stakolee The Journeymen
Jesus Met the Woman at the Well, Greenwood Sidie-O Ian & Sylvia
Anathea Judy Collins
Follow the Drinking Gourd, When I Go Down to Bimini Theodore Bikel
Kisses Sweeter than Wine Theodore Bikel & Judy Collins
Swing Low Sweet Chariot The Clara Ward Gospel Singers
Telling Those Lies About Me Bob Gibson
Green, Green The New Christie Minstrels
Browns Ferry Blues, He Was a Friend of Mine Dian & the Greenbriar Boys
Jerry, Farewell My Honey Cindy Jane Joe & Eddie
Song of the Cuckoo, Poor Howard Eddy Arnold
Sing Out, Sailing Away The Serendipity Singers
Harlem Nocturne, Down by the Riverside Herbie Mann & his Sextette
Kumbayah The Southern Methodist University Ensemble
+ Comedy by Vaughn Meader and Woody Allen.

Disc 2:

Hootenanny Saturday Night, Bowling Green, Good Morning Captain The Travelers Three
Water Boy, If I Had My Way, Wayfarin' Stranger, Midnight Special Jimmie Rodgers
The Ox Driver's Song, Hard Travelin', Four Strong Winds The Brothers Four
Angelico Bud & Travis
Lonesome Traveler, If I Had a Hammer Trini Lopez
Little Tyke The Coventry Singers
To Morrow, Good News, There's a Meetin' Here Tonight, The Chariot's Coming Bob Gibson
Busted, Five Feet High and Rising Johnny Cash
Adieu Madras, Little Boxes Leon Bibb
Delia's Gone Josh White, Jr.
Maid of Constant Sorrow Beverly White
One More Round, Trombone Charlie Hoyt Axton
Pick a Bale of Cotton, Wimoweh The Tarriers
Marching to Pretoria The University of Florida Ensemble
+ Comedy by Bill Cosby and Jackie Vernon

Disc 3:

Midnight Special, Done Laid Around, I'm Going to Leave Old Texas Now The Limelighters
C.C. Rider, Ole Blue Ian & Sylvia
Charming Betsy Richard & Jim
Hello Susan Brown, The John Birch Society Chad Mitchell Trio
Let Your Light From The Lighthouse Shine On Me, Cottenfields The Travelers Three
Fair and Tender Ladies The Carter Family
Winkin', Blinkin' And Nod, Turn, Turn, Turn The Simon Sisters
Umqokozo, Love Tastes Like Strawberries Miriam Makeba
Five Hundred Miles The Brothers Four
Reuben's Train The Dillards
Rocks And Gravel Leon Bibb
I'm On My Way, I've Been Workin' On the Railroad The Rooftop Singers
Packin' Up, I've Got To Live The Life I Sing About In My Song Marion Williams & Stars of Faith
I'll Tell Me Ma, Will Ye Go Lassie?, Reilly's Daughter The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem
Saturday Night, Denver , Michael Roy the Boat Ashore The New Christy Minstrels
Hot Corn Cold Corn, Reuben Flatt & Scruggs
Deep River Blues Doc Watson
He's Got The Whole World In His Hands The University of Pittsburgh Ensemble
+ Comedy by Louis Nye.

Shout!'s 3-disc The Best of Hootenanny set is a B&W kinescoped presentation. The packaging acknowledges that the show's original videotape masters were destroyed, but these film records look pretty good, much better than earlier 1950s kinescopes. The audio isn't as good for some performances as it is for others but usually it's because of the recording situation: Woody Allen is crystal clear while Bill Cosby tends to shout and then mumble in his act, distorting the signal. Miking is in general excellent, and of course everything benefits from the fact that the performances are live. Even when a favorite group is involved, I just can't watch canned performances any more. That's something our parents can rightfully boast that they would never put up with ...

The discs have no extras, but the menus and other amenities are nicely observed.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Best of Hootenanny rates:
Show: Excellent
Video: Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: none
Packaging: 3 slim cases in card sleeve
Reviewed: December 21, 2006

Footnote:

1. With the way the consumer culture is skewed today, I have to imagine that the onset of youthful disillusion now takes place in the first or second grade. Yes, some of us 50s kids were sheltered, but we enjoyed wonderful authentic childhoods.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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