Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Short Take: "Austin to Boston" (2015)

Any musician will tell you that the most grueling part of the job is touring. Sure, Taylor Swift may make a 50+ city world tour seem like one giant party with her friends, but for many artists - especially the bands trying to get noticed - touring can be a slog from one small venue to the next, sometimes reaping a decent paycheck and sometimes being paid in beer. Touring is an itinerant life too: bands spend most of their time away from home and loved ones to constantly move from one town to the next, living out of hotel rooms or tour vans. As cheesy as the song is, there's a reason why Journey's "Faithfully" resonates with many artists.

Austin to Boston, James Marcus Haney's short documentary about four artists embarking on a tour from (you guessed it) Austin, Texas to Boston, aims to provide a brief glimpse into touring life while promoting the artists featured. Ben Howard, Nathaniel Rateliff, Bear's Den, and The Staves travel together in five old Volkswagen vans through a number of stops, including Oklahoma City, Nashville, and Woodstock, New York, sharing their experiences from the road. Haney mixes performance footage with scenes from the road made to look like it was shot on 16mm stock, fitting the rustic folk sounds of the four artists.

Make no mistake, though, this is not the kind of confessional tell-all that some music docs are, nor is this a "behind the music" history of these artists. The documentary is arguably a promotional video above all; it won't come as a surprise that all four artists are signed to Communion, producer Ben Lovett's (of Mumford & Sons fame) label. As a result, there's not a lot revealed about the artists that feels genuine: a scene of Rateliff visiting the intersection where his father died in a car accident, for example, would be more moving if he hadn't been described as "emotionally honest" a few minutes prior, giving the moment a tinge of contrivance. Luckily, the music performances are pleasant, and if the artists pick up some new fans as a result of the film, then Haney and Lovett did their job. C+

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