While most people have never been on a cross country tour, there is a familiarity in the humble journey and camaraderie formed that most can find a connection to. The road trip is an American archetype. Austin to Boston
, a short London Film Festival documentary directed by James Marcus Haney, uses this familiar sincerity to keep the mood light and enjoyable as we follow the zig-zagging expedition of the Communion tour group. Ben Howard, Nathaniel Rateliff, Bear's Den and The Staves come together under the production and guidance of Gill Landry (of Old Crow Medicine Show) for a classically styled Volkswagen camper van tour. Immediately following their SXSW performances, Gill narrates each step of the crew's vast and rewarding journey. While we don't get to dig deep into the personalities and beauty behind each musician, what we get is a warming tale accompanied by pleasant visuals and some great music.
The charm of the film is irresistible. The quirks of the English musicians and their genuine love for their craft are center stage, with impromptu roadtrip sing-alongs and open conversations filling the air. The artists have so much respect for each other and appreciation for their company that it achieves the goal of making the whole experience feel like we are part of this group of best friends traveling the country together. We are right in there with them, sitting in the back seat of the van, cramped and exhausted but still loving it every step of the way.
The film also does a good job of recognizing the talent at hand and incorporating the powerful folk tracks. Each artist has their own portion of the movie devoted to them, highlighting their part of of the live performances along with a simplified music video of sorts. The artists will take a rest on a scenic bench and perform a piece while the visuals move along to other stops of the trip. It's a very relaxing sensation getting to hear the incredible harmonies of The Staves while the group messes around at gas stations and sets off a couple of sparklers.
I did find myself wishing the film devoted more time to digging deeper into the personalities that anchor this journey. While the artists will take some time to talk about themselves, we really don't get much information on who these people actually are. We scratch the surface and see how friendly they are and how important music and this road trip is to them, but there are few opportunities for these performers' lives to feel fleshed out. Even when Nathaniel Rateliff passes over the very spot where his father met his untimely death, we don't get much out of the clearly emotional man. His lyrics speak for some of this, but an opportunity may have been missed to give these artists some personal depth that we wouldn't be able to find anywhere else.
Austin to Boston
seems to be alright with this, though. It's content being a feel good journey paying homage to the quality music around us that might not be getting the recognition it deserves, and the sheer work that goes into making a tour like this happen. The live shows are shot in appropriately smaller venues with invested crowds and the Super 8 camera captures some quality sepia toned footage of the landscapes traversed and stages performed. There is a very home video feeling present here that adds to the inviting formula and the cast of musicians effortlessly create the ideal setting. The cross country tour is a unique experience, and getting to take that trip with the likes of Ben Howard and Bear's Den is about as good as most will ever get.
Be sure to check out the film which is now available on Netflix Instant here
. You can also purchase the film on iTunes here
And if you enjoyed Austin to Boston
, be sure to check out our own session with Ben Howard from that specific SXSW. It's a Baeble classic.