John Cohen’s best short doc on Roscoe Holcomb

It was nice to be there to see John Cohen’s beaming face as he returned to Woodstock with his Best Short Documentary prize. This New Lost City Rambler band member and filmmaker made a very stark little film, “Roscoe Holcomb of Daisy Kentucky” that won the audience over with snippets from the life of a Kentucky banjo player.

Most of the footage was taken in the 1950s and 60s from Cohen’s travels to Kentucky in search of Old Timey tunes in danger of extinction. He said when he ran out of names on his list of musicians he planned to check out he decided to follow his intuition to the next one.

He turned at the “next dirt road off the hard” and drove until he found some people and asked “Hey, are there any banjo players around here?” That’s how he came to discover Roscoe Holcomb, a thread-thin coal miner who had to stop working after he’d broken his back. A stoic man of simple words, his banjo tunes reflect his life.

Holcomb died in the early 1980s.

Cohen celebrated his WFF award win with a full concert after the screening instead of just a few sample tunes. He was accompanied by The Dustbusters, a band of college students playing and preserving Old Time music.

–Deborah Medenbach

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