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.
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 "...life 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 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.
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.