American Epic Weekend

When Bewdley Festival was offered the opportunity of becoming only the second place in England (after the Royal Festival Hall) to feature the international award-winning trilogy of documentaries “American Epic” on the large screen, the committee decided it was too good an opportunity not to involve the whole town.

From this decision came the first “Roots Music Weekend” in October 2019 when Bewdley spent the day as “Main Street USA”.

The award-winning “American Epic” trilogy of documentary films relate to the first portable recordings of rural music in the U.S.A. and their cultural, social and technological impact on the world.

The films take us back to the 1920s, when record companies went in search of new styles and markets and sought out regional musicians, from the streets of Memphis to the Western prairies and the islands of Hawaii. Using interviews, early recordings, and a wide range of period film, photographs, and documents, “American Epic” explores the varied sources and extensive impact of this explosion of American popular culture.

The three films were screened on the Friday and Saturday evenings and around them Festival created a programme focusing on the evolution of audio technology. This started with a talk and exhibition celebrating the history of the world-renowned Kidderminster-based sound technology company Klark Teknik.

So good was the opening film, “The American Epic Sessions” that there were several spontaneous outbursts of applause from the audience at artists’ performances in the film, whilst this first evening closed with a lively and entertaining Q & A with the films’ producer and screen-writer, Allison McGourty.

This was followed on Saturday afternoon by two lectures about the evolution of record production and sound mastering from two of the biggest names in the industry – three times Grammy winner Andrew Scheps and mastering guru (including Tubular Bells) Simon Heyworth. An appreciative and substantial audience gave both speakers standing ovations.

These lectures were followed by the final two “American Epic” film screenings, and the evening closed with a wonderful live music performance from Nashville based singer-songwriter Rod Picott, specifically chosen to appear as his self-penned songs fitted perfectly with the historical recordings of the films.

Meanwhile, following months of preparation by organiser Gordon Roberts and his team of volunteers, Bewdley reverberated to the sounds of American music and American engines, whilst American food was available in the town’s eating establishments. A parade of classic cars, led by a New York Police car, toured the town before they settled on the riverside where the crowds flocked all day to view them.

At noon, shops emptied and the streets were lined as opera singer Amy Hansen, standing at the top of the bell tower of St. Anne’s Church, enchanted the crowds with a combination of two traditional American spiritual numbers – “There’s A Man Going Round Taking Names” and “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray”. These were magical moments for everyone present.

Throughout the afternoon there were entertaining performances from two world-class street performers; Jemski, who among her many talents is an accomplished fire eater, and Ellie, a circus performer and acrobat.

More parades followed featuring Indian motor-cycles, followed later by Harley Davidson riders. They all joined the display of classic cars riverside.

American themed music was performed at various locations around the town and throughout the day by Worcester and Kidderminster Ukulele Bands, The Dharma Bums, Bryn Teeling, Ben Webb, Bewdley Chorus Lite and Bewdley Concert Band.

The town’s businesses attracted great attention with their window displays and the American Soup Trail, organised by Chris Griffin, had 200 people moving from restaurant to restaurant to vote for their favourite American soup. As always the outcome was very close with the winning soup created by Drew Clifford chef-proprietor of The Mug House.

A truly memorable “American Epic” weekend and a great start to the planned series of “Roots Music Weekends”. To watch a video of the day please click here … American Epic Video