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Homegrown Plus: John Cohen & the Down Hill Strugglers

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The Down Hill Strugglers and John Cohen play traditional American music they learned directly from the collections at the American Folklife Center during the “Treasures from the Archives Roadshow” Homegrown Concert Series performance, September 25, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re continuing the series with John Cohen and the Down Hill Strugglers performing Treasures From the Archive Roadshow.

John Cohen plays mandolin during the “Treasures from the Archives Roadshow” as part of the Homegrown Concert Series, September 25, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

John Cohen is a founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers as well as a fieldworker, photographer and filmmaker. As a fieldworker, he has been one of the most important “discoverers” of traditional Appalachian musicians and singers, meeting and recording Dillard Chandler, Roscoe Holcomb, Berzilla Wallin, and many others. The title of Cohen’s 1962 film, High Lonesome Sound, has become synonymous with the rural Appalachian music that he has documented so well. As a photographer, he has chronicled old-time music and the folk revival, and also shot iconic images of Abstract Expressionist painters, Beat Generation writers, young Bob Dylan’s arrival in New York, and the rural music and weaving traditions of highland Peru. Beginning in 1958, he played with the band the New Lost City Ramblers, which also featured Mike Seeger, Tom Paley, and Tracy Schwarz.  The New Lost City Ramblers drew on archival and field research to bring the diverse sounds of rural American string band music to audiences throughout the United States and the world for 50 years. John Cohen’s collections of sound recordings, photographs, and film are part of the AFC archive.

Eli Smith of The Down Hill Strugglers during the “Treasures from the Archives Roadshow” Homegrown Concert Series performance, September 25, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

The Down Hill Strugglers is an old time string band based in Brooklyn, New York, with an album on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and music on the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis, produced by T-Bone Burnett. The Down Hill Strugglers band formed while hanging out at the home of their mutual friend Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders, where they also met friend and mentor John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers. By carrying the music of the old rural America forward with verve and creativity, The Down Hill Strugglers are extending the legacy of the New Lost City Ramblers by bringing archaic sounds into the present.

Jackson Lynch and Walker Shepard during the “Treasures from the Archives Roadshow” Homegrown Concert Series performance, September 25, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Treasures From the Archive Roadshow is a program of traditional American music that John Cohen and the Down Hill Strugglers have learned directly from the amazing collections at the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress. They have performed the show at folk festivals, and helped us develop the Treasures From the American Folklife Center Archive traveling exhibit to go along with the show. They performed at the Library on September 25, 2015.

In the first player, watch the concert.  Then scroll down for the oral history!

In the oral history, Todd Harvey spoke with John Cohen, Eli Smith, Jackson Lynch, and Walker Shepard about the inspiration for the Road Show and the other music they play in archival collections and old 78 rpm commercial recordings.

You can find both of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link and the oral history at this link.

John Cohen has also presented a lecture in our Botkin Lecture series, “The High Lonesome Sound” Revisited: Documenting Traditional Culture in America.  You can view a video of that lecture at this link.

Read more about John Cohen at his website.

Read more about the Down Hill Strugglers at their website.

The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress.  For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

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