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Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music
An ode to Harry Smith’s ‘Anthology of American Folk Music’
'The Anthology’ is perhaps the most important American mixtape ever made.’ (Pitchfork)
‘Make no mistake – there was no ‘folk’ canon before Smith’s work.’ (John Fahey)
This year marks the 100th anniversary of visual artist, experimental filmmaker, musicologist, graphic designer, bohemian, anthropologist and record collector Harry Smith (°1923). That’s why AB is hosting a celebration of his master collector piece ‘Anthology Of American Folk Music’ over the course of three days. This collection is widely acknowledged as the bible for American folk music and features 84 songs, all recorded between 1927 and 1932. In the late 90’s the compilation album even received a Grammy Award for ‘Best Historical Album’. Rolling Stone described ‘The Anthology’ as ‘One of the greatest releases of all time!’ His fanbase? Beck. Beth Orton. Bob Dylan. Elvis Costello. Jack White. Jeff Tweedy (Wilco). And: Nick Cave, who borrowed both ‘Stagger Lee’ and ‘Henry Lee’ from ‘The Anthology’.
That’s plenty of reason for an elaborate tribute on the day Harry Smith would have turned 100 years old. AB is inviting some exquisite musical guests such as Meskerem Mees, Mount Eerie, Sam Amidon (w/ special guest Beth Orton), The Golden Glows, Mike Gangloff, Shovel Dance Collective and Venediktos Tempelboom. They will collectively dive deep into ‘The Anthology’ and come back up with some personal covers or adaptations of their favourite songs. And some of them will simply tell their story in the spirit of Smith’s work.
Rani Singh (director of the Harry Smith Archives and Harry Smith’s former personal assistant) and Bret Lunsford (author of the recently published book ‘Sounding for Harry Smith’) will join us for a Q&A about the legacy he left behind. The documentary ‘The Old Weird America’ tells the story behind ‘The Anthology’ and pianist Giovanni Di Domenico will improvise muscially to Smith’s short animation films ‘Early Abstractions’.
This tribute has been approved and supported by the Harry Smith Archives.
MAY 29th PROGRAMME
THE GOLDEN GLOWS (b) (20h)
In 2018 AB invited The Golden Glows for a true concert residency. We gave them the same challenge as Sam Amidon: reinterpret Harry Smith’s famous Anthology and turn it into a contemporary masterpiece. This residency then resulted into a record called ‘The Songbook of Harry Smith’. One guitar and three radiant voices made the music come alive like it was 1928.
Acoustically and emotionally the whole experience felt extremely ‘pure’. Which was to be expected because since 2005 the Glows have been specialising in pop music from bygone times, and in Americana from the 1920s and 30s in particular. And what are the odds? In 2009 they interpreted a bunch of ‘Prison Songs’ by Alan Lomax, a kindred spirit of Harry Smith.
MOUNT EERIE (us) (21h)
Mount Eerie is the moniker under which Phil Elv(e)rum has been releasing captivating records for years now, on his very own imprint P.W. Elverum & Sun. His body of work - and that of The Microphones - is impressive to say the least. AB had a gut feeling we absolutely needed to talk to Mount Eerie about this Harry Smith tribute. As it turns out the connection between Phil Elverum and Harry Smith has roots that run way deeper than we anticipated.
Phil Elverum: ‘I first learned of ‘The Anthology’ before knowing about Harry Smith. I just thought it was a cool and eccentric folk anthology. Then I learned more about the weird guy who compiled it and his association with the beat writers I liked and then finally I learned that he is from the same place as me, that he actually was a school mate of my grandpa. And then I worked on the book ‘Sounding For Harry Smith’ with Bret Lunsford. ‘I’ve come to think of Harry Smith as a cultural ancestor of mine, of ours, in the sense that he was a very early progenitor of this outsider countercultural artistically minded pursuer of transcendence. Someone who recognized early on the value in opting out of the status quo.’ So Phil, what can we expect from your performance? Elverum: ‘In a weird way, I feel that performing my own songs, living my own life that is in itself inspired by the example he lived, would be a closer tribute (than to interpret songs from ‘The Anthology’, Ed.). I can’t really think of a different angle I could take that would be more overtly ‘Harry Smith-y’. Duly noted. Make Harry proud Phil!