Documentary filmmaker Jim Brown's sequel to WASN'T THAT A TIME! (1982) catches up with the Weavers and other leading lights of American folk music as they prepare for a concert at Carnegie Hall, 25 years after the Weavers' legendary 1979 reunion performance there. The Thanksgiving Day folk concert at Carnegie Hall has been a New York tradition since the '50s, and the 2003 production was a tribute to the man who made it possible: folk promoter-manager-booster Harold Leventhal, who died two years later. Leventhal devoted his professional (and personal) life to promoting folk music, and single-handedly brought the Weavers back together after they disbanded in the wake of McCarthy-era blacklisting and harassment. He befriended Woody Guthrie and looked after his family after Guthrie developed Huntington's chorea, a fatal, hereditary wasting disease. Guthrie's son Arlo — a star in his own right after his 1967 hit "Alice's Restaurant" — is both the driving force behind the tribute concert and the glue that holds Brown's film together; the performers include his daughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie, and her husband, Johnny Irion. The headliners are, among others, the current Weavers — Pete Seeger (whose grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, performs elsewhere on the program), Fred Hellerman, Ronnie Gilbert and Erik Darling; actor-singer Theodore Bikel, who also cofounded the Newport Folk Festival; Leon Bibb; and Peter, Paul and Mary. The founding generation is old — some very old — but their voices and spirits remain vibrantly clear and strong; Ronnie Gilbert may look like a cuddly granny, but when she declares that these are bad times for American idealism, you're hearing from someone who knows from bad times. And while some might think protest standards like "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" should be retired to the nostalgia zone, Mary Travers makes the compelling argument that as long as there's a good fight to be fought, the old chestnuts will resonate with new righteousness. The film's heart is the concert, whose highlights include "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," "Wimoweh," "Guantanamera" and the crowd-pleasing "Have You Been to Jail for Justice?" It's easy to poke fun at the crunchy-granola earnestness of folk music and its hard-core followers — WASN'T THAT A TIME! inspired the brilliant mockumentary A MIGHTY WIND (2003). But there's no mocking the determination of these time-tempered artists, who reminisce about the past and worry about the future: It's clear that they'll go to their graves singing out against the world's wrongs.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: NR
- Review: Documentary filmmaker Jim Brown's sequel to WASN'T THAT A TIME! (1982) catches up with the Weavers and other leading lights of American folk music as they prepare for a concert at Carnegie Hall, 25 years after the Weavers' legendary 1979 reunion performanc… (more)