Bluegrass Feature Film Restored

On Labor Day weekend, in 1971, Carlton Haney produced a Bluegrass festival at Camp Springs, NC. This festival featured notable performers such as Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Chubby Wise, The Osborne Brothers, Jimmy Martin, Mac Wiseman, J.D. Crowe, The Lilly Brothers, Tex Logan, Don Stover, and The Country Gentlemen.

Remember that it was the year 1971 so many of the folks who are now big names in bluegrass music were just starting their careers—performers such as Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury, Doyle Lawson, and Tony Rice were just youngsters. Remember also that this was a time when Bluegrass Festivals were just getting established as such.

Theatrical Release
Even so, what sets this festival apart from others of that new era is that a professional film crew recorded this festival on 35-mm color film. The edited film, titled Bluegrass Country Soul, was theatrically released in 1972 as a documentary film about this new genre of music. The Washington Post published a review of the theatrical release in July, 1972 in which the writer of the review called the film “a new high,” and noted in the review that Bluegrass Country Soul was the first bluegrass movie. In 2006, Time Life Music released Bluegrass Country Soul on DVD, and had the entire production run sold before it went out of print.

The filmmaking team contained top technical talent: Robert Kaylor, director of photography; John Dildine, sound recording; William Eggleston, lighting; Albert Ihde, producer/director and second camera. Robert Decker shot silent footage on the festival grounds. Joel Jacobson was the editor, and mandolin player Doug McCash was the assistant editor.

Carlton Haney was a successful country music promoter, when he met Albert Ihde at Haney’s 1971 fourth-of-July festival in Berryville, VA,. After Ihde obtained funding to film a feature film, Carlton agreed to let Ihde’s team film his next festival, which turned out to be the one in Camp Springs, NC. The original plan was for the film production company to donate ten percent of any profits from the film to help fund the building of a bluegrass museum in North Carolina—a project that never came to be.

Labor Of Love
Fast forward to 2017 when Albert Ihde, Producer/Director, and his wife, Ellen Pasternack, Executive Director, took on as a labor of love the project of restoring the sole remaining copy of the film. Ellen Pasternack recently told us that originally there were ten 35-mm prints made; however, over the years, most were either lost or stolen; thus in 2017, they realized they possessed the only remaining print.

Pasternack said, “When the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum contacted Albert for posters in 2017 as well as photographs and other material for the film, we decided that we should donate an archival copy of the film to the bluegrass museum. That was in December of 2017 so it’s now been a full two years that we’ve been working on this project.”

Ihde said, “When one of my original partners on the film, Robert Henninger, examined the one remaining print, he saw that it had deteriorated and offered to oversee a digital restoration in 4K high definition, Dolby sound, and in widescreen format—the format in which it was first shown in theatres.” Ihde observed, “If we hadn’t restored it now, the film might have been lost forever.”

Thus, 48 years after its original release and after under-going extensive restoration, Bluegrass Country Soul re-premiered in November, 2019 at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Owensboro, KY. Chris Joslin, Executive Director of the museum, said, “Bluegrass Country Soul is an iconic documentary and provides a wonderful snapshot of the festival experience in the early 1970s. The music crosses all cultural boundaries in this film, and first-generation bluegrass artists are leading the charge inspiring a new generation of musicians and fans. It is an incredible film, and we are so pleased to host this premiere and to welcome the film maker and the wonderful artists who appear in the documentary.”

Own A Copy
As with any project of this nature, expenses and financing are a major concern so to help cover some of the costs for the film restoration, the producers have created a new, Golden Anniversary, Legacy Edition of the film, Bluegrass Country Soul as a multi-media box set. Should you wish to own such a special item in your personal collection, navigate your browser to the film’s website, where you can find ordering details.

By Edward Tutwiler