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Notes from the filmmaker

Notes from the filmmaker

It Ain't City Music was filmed in 1972 at the National Country Music Contest, Whippoorwill Lake, Warrenton, Va. The festival was sponsored by the Warrenton Jaycees. Warrenton is about 60 miles west of Washington, DC. In those days, the area was rural and the economy was agricultural. In the 1980s as the area became more suburban, the festival ended.

Here are some notes by filmmaker Tom Davenport from an a 1973 article in Film News…

I grew up on a farm about 15 miles away from Lake Whippoorwill in Fauquier County, Virginia where the National Country Music contest was held every summer. At the time, it was the oldest Country Music contest in the country. In 1970 (I was 31 years old) I went to the Contest and took a lot of still photographs and it was through these that the idea of a film came about.

Initially, I thought I might focus on the Contest itself — follow the potential winners and losers and try to generate an element of suspense in the outcome — but I decided not to. The winner of each category receives a cash prize, but as one man in the film notes, "I don't come to win, I come to play..." And that sentiment is really, I felt, the core of the festival — the real action and the best playing are "in the field" where the music and good times are spontaneous. I had seen paintings by Brueghel of peasants at festivals and that same spirited atmosphere, vulgar and exuberant, was exactly what I wanted to convey in It Ain't City Music.

The women in the film (and the examples are outstanding but typical) are particularly provocative --very gaudy, buxom and sexually obvious in their hot-pants and bouffant hairdos, real honky-tonk angels. The "good old boys" look more subdued. That Elvis-style glitter is reserved for the stage, and they concentrate their efforts on serious "lady-watching, pickin' and drinkin'." On all levels the festival was often described as a kind of "family reunion," where everybody, infants through grandma, players and fans can get it together. In one interview (not used) a fellow went to some lengths contrasting country music to soul music and rock, his point being that country music was their music, the "true American music." But most people said country music was for everybody, and I think they genuinely felt that. As one man we interviewed said, it used to be that anybody connected with country music was a "hick," a "mountaineer," but that's not so anymore. Now, country music has become respectable, gone "uptown." And so have country music festivals. Once purely a rural phenomenon, their present "uptown" popularity is due in large part/to the nostalgia revival which reflects a craving for a less cynical, more traditional, in a way more conservative, sense of values.

Many of the people in the film mythologize their own backgrounds. They reminisce about their rural origins, their folks, the depression and hard times ("We didn't have no food, but Mamma always had the guitar on the front porch!") but now they've left the hills and moved into town, into suburbia, into the city. Increasingly the themes of country music songs deal with the complications of life away from the farm - "any country song you hear nowadays the guy's either in jail or just got divorced...", notes a man who continues, "...but it's their lives and they write songs about it..." Their new affluence is proudly evident by the sophisticated consumer goods they bring to the festival — fancy campers, recreation equipment — the status objects of prototypical Middle Americans, supporters of the American Dream and (judging from the bumper stickers on their campers) the politicians who promise it to them. However, people didn't come to the Contest to expound political philosophies; they came to relax, to be seen, be entertained and carouse. They liked being filmed and I liked filming them and the warmth and humor and exuberance they reveal is what I wanted to share through the film.