Bluegrass Roots On TV

In 1965 a young film maker from New York named David Hoffman had an idea for a documentary. David grew up like a lot of lads from that era listening to the radio for entertainment. One of the programs he enjoyed was broadcast out of Nashville, TN on Saturday nights.

“A whole bunch of us kids on Long Island would listen to the Grand Ole Opry Country music show on Saturday nights,” David told me recently. “We just went nuts for the music. We’d never heard anything like this. Every musician was fabulous. The music was great, and their voices were so good. We couldn’t believe it.”

Never Been To Carolina
At the age of 23, David read a Time magazine article about a gentleman who lived near Ashville, NC. That man was 82 year old Bascom Lamar Lunsford who was producing a music festival for mountain music dancers, singers, and storytellers. “I didn’t know much about it,” David recalled, “So I wrote Bascom a letter asking if I could come down and do a film about him and the festival. He said he didn’t know much about film making, but that I could come on down.”

David pitched the idea, and got funding for the project. “I’d never made a film like this before. The gear was actually brand new for that time too, and I’d never used it before. I’d never even been on a plane before,” David quipped. They loaded up the 49 pounds camera and 26 pounds of audio gear and made their way to the rural mountains of North Carolina for six weeks of filming.

David arrived in Ashville, NC where someone had provided them free room and board. Bascom picked up the film makers, loaded the gear into his car, and drove them all around the region scouting potential acts for his festival. “What I saw was unbelievable. Bascom and his wife drove around in the car just talking to and seeing people. He knew just about everybody. But these folks had so much natural talent. I could not believe it. The music was just an everyday way of life for them.”

Never Before Seen
There’s a particular dance scene Hoffman filmed in South Turkey Creek North Carolina at Bascom’s home. “We rolled up the rug, put on a few lights, and the band Bascom had assembled began to play. It was amazing. The dancers, the music, the lights, everything was just right. I even began to dance with the dancers with the camera on my shoulder,” David recalled. It’s become one of the most popular clips on David’s youtube channel.

David said Bascom also taught him a lot about the music too, and how to spot someone more talented than another. “There’s a scene with a fiddler named Lost John. It’s a constant source of disagreement on my YouTube channel, but I call him the best mountain fiddler I ever heard. Bascom thought so too. He was well known in North Carolina. But what Bascom showed me was his kind of tricks from the grip of the fiddle, the notes he hit, and his grit. He said, ‘he makes it gritty, really gritty,’ and I understood that,” David said. “Lunsford would say, ‘this guy’s got a beautiful voice, sings like an angel.’ And I could hear the difference between that and other people.”

Most Amazing Culture
At 78-years old, David says most of his film making has been about culture. But this experience in North Carolina might be his most memorable. “I’ve never been in a culture as rich in terms of storytelling,” He said. “The music and dance as an art form, maybe nowhere as rich as the mountains of North Carolina. I don’t know about the rest of Appalachian mountains. I never went to Kentucky or West Virginia. That may be somewhat different, but in North Carolina, that is amazing culture, and it’s still thriving.”

David’s film, Bluegrass Roots, was broadcast by the predecessor of PBS, National Educational Television, in 1966. It made the cover of TV Guide. “It got a full page review,” David said, “because people not only loved the music, but they had never seen people dance like this before. When we listened to the Opry on the radio, we could hear dancing, but we’d never seen it. Most of America hadn’t seen anything like it. They were fascinated.” The film has become such a part of recorded history that upon David’s passing, the film will go into the Smithsonian archives.

You can view Bluegrass Roots on David’s YouTube channel along with many other projects that David has been a part of.