Watch the Tunes: Austin to Boston

On April 15, 2016


There is an absurdly vast selection of music movies and documentaries available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and on and on and on. But it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worth your 100 minutes. Watch the Tunes will help you pick what music doc is worth your Netflix and Chill time every weekend. This week’s edition covers Austin To Boston, which is streaming over at Netflix.

I got a bass guitar one middle school Christmas, and the package gift came with some lessons from a long-haired twenty-something metal dude with whom I spent more time talking about post-makeup-era KISS than actually practicing pentatonic scales. I could see the writing on the wall pretty clearly even at that young of an age. Being in a band was just never going to be my thing and, no matter how many road trips with friends I might go on, I’ll never get that feeling of being on tour. Thankfully, there are tour docs like James Marcus Haney’s Austin To Boston to fill in those holes for me.

Starting off right at the tail end of the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, we find four musical acts about to follow that infamous week-long musical marathon of show after show with a couple weeks of even more shows. Three British acts, Ben Howard, The Staves, and Bear's Den, as well as Missouri’s own Nathaniel Rateliff, have joined up under the apparent guidance of Mumford & Sons member Ben Lovett to take a hopscotching jaunt north eastward that will eventually land them all in Boston. Why noted Mumford & Sons member Ben Lovett? This bunch of musicians are simply some of his favorites and he wants to spent some quality time with all of them on the back roads and green rooms of America, and share the results with us all.

The musicians, even the ones from across the pond, are of a decidedly comfy whiskey sippin Appalachian bent, but each brings different strengths to the table, making for a high quality package tour. Nathaniel Rateliff is the guy who’s been out there performing the longest, putting in mile after mile of real touring. He’s presented with the appropriate amount of respect, and since they’re actually in his backyard, relatively speaking, he’s the musician whose backstory is fleshed out the most, especially in the heavy moment when the tour stops in his childhood hometown and we get to actually sit with him at the intersection where his father was killed in a car accident. Rateliff just kinda shrugs past it, tossing off a the simple truth that " just ends up being that short sometimes."

Between the bands there’s a definite camaraderie that develops. If Nathaniel Rateliff is the emotional and professional anchor of the film, The Staves, a trio of gorgeous-voiced sisters, provide the air under the wings of Austin To Boston with their soaring harmonies. Their take on Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” at a tour stop not far from that song's namesake city is one of the live highlights captured here. One of those musician things I’ll forever be jealous of, the language of song bonds this bunch together fast and strong, with random sing-a-longs poppin off left and right in a way that makes ya think they’d be randomly breaking into Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan deep cuts even if there wasn’t a camera crew chillin with them 24/7. Everyone just hangs out in the copious amount of downtime and has this wonderful musical shoot-around. It’s casual moments like those that really make the film worthwhile.

The only complaint I could really leverage against Austin To Boston is that it implies a replication of what it’s like touring with indie bands, grinding it out night after night for next to no money or fame. There’s a palpable bubble of security in Austin To Boston, thanks to either Ben Lovett’s deep-ish pockets or the film production budget, that saps whatever “indie cred” they might’ve been shooting for. There are a few auto trouble related hiccups early on, which might’ve scuttled a lower profile outing, but here they’re all resolved pretty quickly and with minimal fretting from all involved. The small convoy of Westfalia vans (product placement?) are tricked out with Christmas lights and there’s a whole separate vehicle carrying instruments and whatever extra equipment the film crew might need, so even if it’s heart is in the right place, this is a far cry from the reality of a touring band’s life.

The music here really is the key though, and the performances are wonderful and well shot. The venues that they selected to shoot in are all perfectly matched to the lived in hominess of the sounds coming from the musicians. Austin To Boston is a breezy little film, spanning just over an hour, and while it’s not likely to give you any new revelations on what it’s really like out there on the road it’s an incredibly comfortable thing to experience.

Profile Picture of Chris Lay
Chris Lay

Chris Lay is a freelance writer, archivist, and record store clerk living in Madison, WI. The very first CD he bought for himself was the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack when he was twelve and things only got better from there.

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