Towncraft in review | Rock Candy

Towncraft in review




Friday night marked the crowning moment of "Towncraft" Week: the film’s premiere. The packed house was loud with chatter until director Richard Matson came forward. A big night for Matson, he seemed cool in front of this crowd, largely made up of his buddies and family. (I met his mom LeAnn and saw her at nearly every show last week.) While it was very much his night, his opening remarks reflected his desire to share it with Victor Wiley, a Little Rock musician and artist who’d suffered a stroke the day before and passed away Sunday morning.


The film got off to a quirky start: It opens with a large, grown man (policeman?) yelling at a group of kids at an outdoor venue. He screams something like: “Get your people out of here.” An outspoken member of the group – there are many in this film – shouts back, “Your people?” That drew laughs from the film’s audience and set the tone for what was to come. Let’s just get this out of the way: If you expected a documentary about a small town’s punk rock scene to feel a bit insider-ish complete with a for-us-by-us mentality then you’re right-on, sort of.

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Instead of feeling left out, though, you feel invited in, something Matson achieves through interviews with a dozen people who you feel you know by the film’s end. There are dozens supporting characters, but the main ones – Burt Taggart, Graham Cobb, Paul Bowling, Kevin Kerby, John Pugh, Andy Conrad – take you under their wing and along for the ride like an older brother who lets you ride shotgun in his car. Narrated by Matson briefly, it’s the main characters’ lively voices who tell the story of a bunch of kids trying to do something with their time and talents in Little Rock. In a get-in-to-fit-in manner, kids used their skills to develop an independent arts and music scene that rivaled and arguably surpassed those in Memphis, St. Louis, Dallas and Chicago. Scenester Catherine McRae identified what she felt separated the Little Rock music scene from others that were happening at that time: What Little Rock had that they didn’t was boredom.


“Towncraft” successfully shows what happens when smart, self-aware kids are left to their own devices: They find each other and they make something special. The music, then, becomes the soundtrack of this community. And this one’s got a killer soundtrack. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Little Rock’s punk rock scene operated at fever pitch as bands Econochrist, Numbskulz, Chino Horde and Trusty developed and dominated for the next half-decade. As the movie progresses, the drive to get out is gradually replaced with the pride of staying put as the road to success narrows and its travelers age. The Big Cats, Mulehead, Il Libertina, Ho-Hum and Boondogs emerge. Over the years, people move away, they come back, they get married, they get more tattoos, and all the while, the soundtrack gets richer and their bond gets tighter. 


If you weren’t savvy enough to buy an all-access pass that hooked you up with a copy of the DVD and a double-disk CD featuring 40 songs from 40 bands who were part of this film twenty years in the making, it’s okay. They’re available here.


Whew. After the party, it was the after-party at a slammed Vino's. Smoke Up Johnny gave us an abrupt but hard-rocking set. Ashtray Babyhead played the most melodic pop-rock known to man complete with their catchy cosmonaut song “Mir.” After that, I could’ve left completely happy, but I didn’t want to miss out on Southern rock served Kevin Kerby-style. Mulehead's gutsy songs got everybody moving and shaking.


Saturday night was Jason Morphew, a reunited Trusty, American Princes and Ho-Hum at the Rev Room. Too much for one bill: They played short sets that left you wanting at least six more songs from each of them. American Princes sounded better than ever, and after recent weeks of national touring, you can only hope that people in other places are noticing. Ho-Hum brought all the girls to the dance floor. I kicked off my heels and danced into the early hours of the morning. They played my favorites off of their new album “Let Me Wear Your Coat,” a must-own album. Check out the "Towncraft" website for exclusive photos and videos from this week, in case you blinked and missed something.

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