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Martin Lederle-Ensign is an 18-year-old musician and filmmaker who is taking a gap-year before beginning college at the University of Mary Washington in 2013. He’s using the year to make Crooked.
David Ensign has not been 18 since 1978. He is a writer, story-teller, and part-time Presbyterian pastor in Arlington, VA.

Obviously, this is a blog rather than a web site, so we don’t really have a traditional “home page.” But we wanted to create a single post that explains this project to folks we’ll meet along the way as Crooked grows over the coming months. So welcome to Crookedfilm’s home page.

A bit more than a year ago, as Martin began his senior year at Arlington’s Wakefield High School, he was trying to develop and focus a senior project that started with his desire to add the banjo to his repertoire of instruments that already included violin and mandolin. While learning to play the banjo was all well and good, in and of itself it wasn’t quite a senior project. So, inspired by a wonderful documentary featuring legendary banjo artist Bela Fleck‘s exploration of the African roots of the banjo, and a Smithsonian magazine article on Virginia’s Crooked Road, Martin decided to make a short documentary about the music of the Crooked Road as a contextual piece to take the senior project a bit beyond learning to play a new instrument.

David became the producer of the documentary part of the project. It turns out that “producer” means “the guy who produces the wallet when the bill comes due.” He was also driver, cameraman and caterer. (Don’t ask about the soup supper that one late night when the only thing open along the road was a small grocery store.)

More than that, though, he got the chance to spend a lot of time with his son while supporting a project that fed his lifelong passion for music, and his longstanding but previously unfulfilled desire to make a film.

The end result was Crooked, the short film that Martin wrote and directed.

Martin showed it to a few local audiences, and the near unanimous response was, “that’s great; I want to see more.”

With that in mind, Martin decided to take a gap year before beginning college and use the time to take Crooked way beyond a short student film, into a documentary length study of the music, musicians and instrument makers along the Crooked Road. Because it is no longer a school project, this time around dad gets to do more than produce the wallet.

Indeed, through the incredibly generous donations of more than 70 backers through a Kickstarter campaign, this time we’ll hit the road with equipment that is capable of capturing the fullness of the music as well as the beauty of the land and its people. We also have time to gather much more of that story, and time to put it together.

In the next several months we’ll make several trips down the Crooked Road to film local jams, interview musicians and visit with some of the remarkably skilled craftspeople who make world-renowned instruments from the maple and spruce that grow along the Blue Ridge. We’ll explore the deep roots of the music, and the social history from which it springs.

Along the way, we’ll use this blog to post clips, photos and stories from the Road. Come along for the ride!

Clawhammer

Old time is an acoustic dance music, and the banjo provides the percussion. Banjos have been a part of the music along the Crooked Road for at least two centuries and maybe longer. The banjos found along the Road these days trace their roots to African instruments, although similar instruments, whose histories are far older than the American banjo, are found in various countries around the world. All of which is to say, there are many theories about the roots of the banjo, but the singular truth at the end of them all is the joyous music that continues to entertain and inspire folks all along the road.

Along the Road

The Crooked Road is nestled along the Blue Ridge and winds its way through some of the most beautiful countryside anywhere. While much of what human beings have built along the road detracts from that natural scenery, some of the constructed landscape has a stark beauty. The Floyd water tower probably lies somewhere between the extremes, but the simple shed in its shade has its own kind of grace. And the public art just up the hill is just plain cool!

The art installation is a vivid reminder that the Crooked Road is not a museum of bye-gone days. It’s a road the connects a living culture that continues to exude creative energy in arts, music and crafts.

We’ve Got a Logo!

Thanks to the mad graphic skills of Martin’s friend, Delanie, Crooked now has an official logo! It’s comoming soon to lots of swag, including many of the “premiums” for our large and growing number of Kickstarter backers.

The Kickstarter campaign is now 102-percent funded, with 10 days remaining. That means this thing is really happening. We’re already lining up our next trip down the Crooked Road, and soon we will be filming more of the incredible stories of the folks who make the road sing.

We’re so excited to be at this stage where the dreaming turns to planning. Soon the planning will turn to filming, writing, editing and all the rest of the work.

We will no doubt spend considerably more than we’ve raised thus far, so please continue to share the story and pass the Kickstarter link along. That campaign remains open for 10 more days, and the more we raise at this point the better job we’ll be able to do at turning our dreams into the film we can envision from here.

Thanks for your interest. We’ll be back to sharing stories from the road real soon.

 

Music Tonight

All along the Crooked Road you can find live music in venues large and small. Some of them are local jams where anyone with a guitar or fiddle or mandolin can join and circle and add a song. Others feature regionally known artists in intimate concert settings.

One musician in Galax told us about a long-time local jam that for years gathered weekly in the kitchen of a couple of musicians. The jam grew so large that the host had to put in extra beams under the kitchen floor to make sure it didn’t collapse under the weight of the several dozen players who filled the house with music.

Signs like this one, outside the Floyd Country Store, are a common and welcome sight along the road.

 

Hard Times

A lot of Old Time songs tell stories of hard times. The songs reflect a reality along the Crooked Road that has been a constant that is probably as old as the music itself. Life in the hollers of the Blue Ridge has never been easy, and with the collapse of the textile industry, the virtual disappearance of furniture manufacturing and massive shifts in mining hard times have come again.

But as long as there are front porches, the culture of front-porch music brings joy even in trying times.

In the coming days, we’ll post some clips of a few hard-times songs we filmed last winter. Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy some of the photographs we took along the road.