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New WVPB documentary focuses on old-time music in Mountain State

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The first public screening of the documentary “In Tune: A Community of Musicians,” by West Virginia Public Broadcasting is set for Monday night in Clay County.

The free event, which will take place at Clay High School, will unveil a project focused on old-time music in West Virginia. It’s meant as a companion film to Ken Burns’ “Country Music” eight-part series that will air nationally beginning in September.

WVPB’s Russ Barbour produced the hour-long “In Tune” film. He told MetroNews it began with some film shot in 1975, but seldom used, of old-time musicians in West Virginia.

“We used that film as a centerpiece surrounded by stories of today,” Barbour said. “You get this sense of how this music has been passed on from generation to generation.”

The documentary features film shot in 1975, photos and drawings of old-time music being played in West Virginia.

The documentary features Clay County fiddle player John Morris and others.

“He represented a new generation of old-time musicians in 1975 and now he is mentoring such a generation,” Barbour said.

Some things have changed. In 1975, old-time music, sometimes called hillbilly music, was still passed down from family to family but now it involves other people, Barbour said.

“Now you have people from other parts of the state or country that are coming to Clay County to learn because they don’t have it where they’re at or what they have is different,” according to Barbour.

He said the generations are different but the message of the music is the same.

“It’s the sense of community. You have a generation now of people who are looking for connectiveness and they’re finding it in little communities like Clay County,” Barbour said.

The production also includes photos, drawings and performances of many old-time musicians. It represents Barbour’s last documentary. He’ll soon retire from West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Russ Barbour

He said unlike other documentaries he’s done, the original thought of how the project would progress stayed the same and it wasn’t as difficult as other projects have been getting the final production to one hour in length. He said the tone was set by the 1975 film crew that didn’t waste time filming things they didn’t need.

“So that impacted the tone of what they shot and that impacted my tone,” he said.

The screening at Clay County High will include live performances plus a question and answer session. Barbour said he hopes those who attend will be impacted.

“About how (old-time music) touches people who were involved, people who lived there, who had family there. I hope they will experience the same kind of community these musicians have,” Barbour said.

Monday evening’s screening begins at 6:30. Doors open at 6:00. Additional public screenings are scheduled for July 25 at the WVU Mountainlair in Morgantown and Aug. 22 at the state Culture Center in Charleston.

The documentary is narrated by Larry Groce.

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