Guitarist Nathan Salsburg collaborates with IU Libraries Film Archive to lead film program

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom colleague Jaclyn Lansbery:

Cajun cowboys, moonshiners, fife-and-drum ensembles and fiddlers – these were the crowds famous folklorist Alan Lomax hung around to get what is arguably one of the most comprehensive records of traditional American Southern music to date.

Alan Lomax (far left) recording with musicians for “American Patchwork." Photo courtesy of the Association for Cultural Equity.

Alan Lomax (far left) recording with musicians for “American Patchwork.” Photo courtesy of the Association for Cultural Equity.

Around the early 1980s, Lomax and a video crew traveled throughout the American South to record more than 400 hours of footage. In 1991, their collection, edited into the “American Patchwork” series, aired on PBS.

This Sunday, the IU Libraries Film Archive and IU’s Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology will present “An Evening of Music and Film with Nathan Salsburg & the Alan Lomax Archive,” starting at 8 p.m. May 25 at The Bishop Bar, 123 S. Walnut Street.

Louisville-based guitarist Nathan Salsburg will give a solo guitar performance before screening a program of assorted clips from the American Patchwork collection. The IU Libraries Film Archive will also present three short films, including “Academy Leader Variations,” a 1987 short which includes versions of the classic movie countdown animated by artists from around the world.

Sunday’s event is also a spin on the the archive’s monthly “Social Guidance Sundays” film series, started by four graduate students in May 2013 in an effort to publicize the trove of social guidance and educational films stored at Indiana University.

Josephine McRobbie, who works as an assistant archivist at IU Libraries Film Archive, said this event was planned after she and other archivists visited a similar film and music show in Louisville, led by Salsburg.

“I’ve known Nathan for a long time through our kinship as folklorists-slash-archivists-slash-musicians, and admire his work as an enthusiastic advocate for cultural heritage collections.” McRobbie told Art at IU in an email.

Salsburg was nominated for a Grammy award in 2013 for his liner notes in “Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard: Hard Time, Good Time & End Time Music, 1923 – 1936.” His albums, “Affirmed” and “Hard For to Win and Can’t Be Won,” consist of his own folk-guitar solos. After he graduated college in the summer of 2000, he began working for the Alan Lomax Archive at the Association for Cultural Equity, housed at NYC’s Hunter College.

Nathan Salsburg

Nathan Salsburg. Photo by Tim Furnish.

Now a curator of the Alan Lomax Archive – which consists of Lomax’s expansive audio, video, written and photographic collections of folklore traditions from around the world and the U.S. – Salsburg juggles his own music career with curating and promoting Lomax’s collections.

“I didn’t play my own music for a long time, as it felt paltry and tepid compared to my experience as a listener in the stacks at the Archive,” Salsburg said in an email. “And I’m glad I took that time, as when I started making music again, it felt like an informed response to the listening I’d been doing; a way to try to reconcile myself as a listener – and what I’d been listening to – with myself as a player. I’m sure that better music is born of better listening.”

McRobbie, who graduated in December from IU Bloomington with her master’s in folklore and ethnomusicology and a master’s in library science, said the archive will present their screenings on Sunday in 16-millimeter format to give attendees a heightened experience of what it would have been like to view the films in a 1930s-1980s classroom setting.

“Lomax treats everything from low-rider car culture to gospel quartets with the same reverence and inquisitiveness, and it’s really a treat to see these traditions through his eyes,” McRobbie said.

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