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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 28th EVENING PROGRAMME
MESKEREM MEES (b) (20h)
‘Meskerem Mees enchants from the moment she opens her mouth’ headlined the influential American blog Consequence of Sound. De Tijd linked her to Harry Smith straight away: ‘When we close our eyes, we see a vexed folk singer of a certain age, almost as if we’re listening to a forgotten traditional from ‘Anthology of American Folk Music.’
Not extremely surprising as Meskerem once stated she feels like an old soul in a young body.
In her dad’s record collection she discovered Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt who instantly became her heroes. And there’s no such thing as coincidence: blues legend Mississippi John Hurt also shines bright like a diamond on ‘The Anthology.’ It’s an understatement to say we’re very curious which songs Meskerem will pick from ‘The Anthology and how she’ll make them hers.
SAM AMIDON W/ SPECIAL GUEST BETH ORTON (uk) (21h)
In 2019 AB went to singer, guitarist, fiddle and banjo player Sam Amidon with the request to reinterpret Harry Smith’s famous anthology and turn it into a contemporary masterpiece.
Amidon then showcased his fine collection of covers two days in a row at our AB Club. He felt inspired by what he had done and jumped straight into the studio afterwards to record the EP ‘Fatal Flower Garden’ for Nonesuch (see: Wilco, Rhiannon Giddens,…). Amidon: ‘Fatal Flower Garden is my tribute to the elusive spirit of Harry Smith and to his wondrous Anthology of American Folk Music.’
The house Amidon grew up in was always filled with Appalachian folk music and so it became the soundtrack of his youth.
When ‘The Anthology’ was released on CD in 1997, it shook the world of music for 16 year old Sam: ‘‘When I heard old field recordings of fiddlers and singers on the
mountain, it was as harsh and strange as an Albert Ayler free jazz album.’
Sam Amidon will be joined by special guest Beth Orton who recently blew everyone’s socks off with her album ‘Weather Alive’. In 1999 she jumped on the stage of the Royal Festival Hall during the The Harry Smith Project. She played a cover of ‘Frankie’ by blueslegende Mississippi John Hurt.