Film News

"Song" pays warm tribute to Texas troubadours

AUSTIN, Texas (Hollywood Reporter) - 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 documentary, a selection of the recent South by Southwest festival, 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 appear as well -- and all are shown performing in excellent early-days video clips -- but Bryant and Barham are equally fond of performers casual folk fans might not 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.