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For the Sake of the Song -- Film Review

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AUSTIN -- A gap in the history of folk music gets filled in "For the Sake of the Song," which reminds viewers that the acoustic tradition flourished not only in New York and San Francisco but in the Lone Star State. Full of warm testimonials and rare clips of well-known performers, it's well suited for cable or video promotion to the genre's fans, particularly those with fond (or smoke-clouded) memories of the '70s and '80s songwriter heyday.

The doc views the singer-songwriter scene via the tiny stage at Anderson Fair, an eccentric cafe in Houston's bohemian Montrose neighborhood that has survived for decades while making barely enough money to keep the lights on. Interviews with those who have volunteered over the years paint a lively portrait of a family-style business where nobody gets paid but everybody -- musicians, especially -- gets a bellyful of whatever's on the stove.

 

The community revolves around music, and filmmakers Bruce Bryant and Jim Barham get glowing interviews with those who learned their craft onstage here. Lyle Lovett gets the most screen time, humbly recalling a time when he'd play to a half-dozen people and worry he wasn't worthy to sing where icons like Townes Van Zandt and Dave Van Ronk (both memorialized here) had gone before him.

Lovett's peers Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, and Robert Earl Keen all appear as well -- and all are shown performing in excellent early-days video clips -- but Bryan and Barham are equally fond of performers casual folk fans mightn't know: men like Don Sanders and Eric Taylor, whose work influenced those, like Lovett, who went on to stardom.

Funny and deeply in love with the troubadour tradition, the film keeps its focus tight on this place and its evolving cast of characters. That single-mindedness may limit the movie's appeal but makes it quite satisfying for music lovers wanting a better understanding of what makes Texas-bred folkies tick.

Venue: South by Southwest Festival
Production company: Ghost Ranch Films/Fair Retail Films
Director: Bruce Bryant
Screenwriters: Jim Barham, Bruce Bryant
Executive producer: Elizabeth Phillips
Producer: Jim Barham, Bruce Bryant
Director of photography: Jim Barham
Music: Gurf Morlix
Editors: Bill Moore, Jim Barham
Sales Agent: Jim Barham, Fair Retail Films
No MPAA rating, 91 minutes