O’ Brother Where Art Thou? Twentieth Anniversary Music Tribute, 51st Nashville Film Festival

Reviewed by Larry Gleeson during the virtual 51st Nashville Film Festival.

“The 51st Nashville Film Festival’s Special Presentation, O Brother Where Art Thou? Twentieth Anniversary Music Tribute presented by Variety and Peer Music, epitomizes what the Nashville Film Festival is all about – the importance of film, music, and culture.” Those were the words echoed by the Nashville Film Festival’s Executive Director, Jason Padgitt, as he and Heather Cook, Nashville Film Festival’s Senior Music Event Producer, and Director, Marketing and Brands, peermusic, both introduced the hour and fifty-two-minute special presentation. In my experience, no truer words were ever spoken.

The film, O’ Brother Where Art Thou?, is a loose interpretation of the Homeric epic poem, The Odyssey. O’ Brother Where Art Thou? was directed and produced by the Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel,  and followed their 1990s films Fargo and The Big Lebowski. Fargo received critical acclaim earning the brothers an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay while The Big Lebowski received mixed reviews at release. But no one could have predicted what Entertainment Tonight (ET) had to say about O Brother Where Art Thou? As the film was released in January of 2000, ET claimed it was the worst film of the year. And, since it was a new decade, ET called it the worst film of the decade. And since it was a new century and new millennium….well, you get the idea.

Yet, over the years, the Coen Brothers’ film has become known as a film classic as it deals with racial tensions, poverty, greedy evangelicals, and government overreach. In addition, O’ Brother Where Art Thou? set in the Deep South during the Depression years quickly turned the tables for the Americana movement musically. O’ Brother Where Art Thou?‘s music was drawn primarily from songs written in the 1920s and 1930s by the Carter family and other older folk songs that have stood the test of time. Surprisingly, the music was selected first (before filming) with Producer/songwriter T-Bone Burnett brought in to oversee the recording and consequently, the dubbing process. And, as history would have it, the genesis of the Americana folk music movement flashed across America’s screens with the soundtrack from O’ Brother Where Art Thou? Americana had always been in the ether but now it becomes official following the release of O’ Brother Where Art Thou? And, with the formation of the Americana Music Association Foundation in June of 2000, new music labels, careers, and performers were spawned.

To propel and heighten the Americana movement into the mainstream, the T-Bone Burnett produced soundtrack from O Brother took home Album of the Year at the 2002 Grammys. In addition, Dr. Ralph Stanley garnered Best Male Country Vocal Performance for “O Death,” and Harley Allen, Pat Enright, and Dan Tyminski (The Soggy Bottom Boys) captured Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” Moreover, at the Country Music Association Awards, the album took home the Album of the Year (the second soundtrack ever to do so) and Single of the Year Award for “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” O’ Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack also won the Academy of Country Music Awards’ Album of the Year and garnered Album of the Year and Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year with Allison Krause and Gillian Welch on “I’ll Fly Away.” Interestingly, the album continues in popularity today as it has been streamed more than 200 million times since 2006 and has sold ten million album copies.

And, anyone who’s been to Nashville knows every singer/songwriter has a story behind the song he/she is about to sing. You can call it a part of Southern Hospitality. And, Dan Tyminski is no exception. Mr. Tyminiski was the first performer of the tribute and sat on a barstool and spoke about his rendition of  “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” and then proceeded to perform the song. The acoustics and recording system in the bar was excellent and later in the tribute, Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter Cash, Tiffany Anastasia Lowe, grandaughter of June Carter Cash, performed “Keep On The Sunny Side.” Carlene Carter mesmerized with her deep, compelling, and resonate voice. Other performances included Dualtone Records & peermusic Recording Artist Kathleen Edwards’ rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,”  Actor/musician Chris Thomas King performed “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” and “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby,” received the vocal excellence of Allison Krause, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris.

As wonderful as the performers were and are, it was the space in-between with conversations between Variety Executive Vice President, Global Content, Steven Gaydos led with T-Bone Burnett, with actors John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, and George Clooney, with Emmylou Harris, with Actor/musician Chris Thomas King, with Elizabeth Ann Peer, Creative Administrator, peermusic and Peer Family Genealogist, with Rita Forrester, Granddaughter of A.P. and Sara Carter, and with Scott Robinson, CEO/Co-Founder, Dualtone music, that elevated the O’ Brother Where Art Thou? Twentieth Anniversary Music Tribute. A must-see selection!

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