On Tour: Bethlehem, PA

29 Feb

February 11, 2016 | Winding Stream | Bethlehem, PA

I make documentaries in no small part because I’m interested in history. I love good stories, I love historical locations, I love the artifacts that illuminate the past. These all play a role in my filmmaking and I think they’re in evidence in The Winding Stream and its tale of the family at the heart of country music.

So when I arrived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, it was immediately a place that spoke to me. As you sweep into town from the south down a long hill the panorama is amazing. Dwarfing a massive valley of homes on either side of the Lehigh River (some the former dwellings of the immigrant labor force, some the abodes of the owners and management of place they worked) is the rusted yet impressive hulk of the former Bethlehem Steel Mill. It’s hard to exaggerate its presence on the skyline and its role in this city’s history.

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Lehigh University has had an important role in Bethlehem as well, founded 150 years ago by Asa Packer, a railroad magnate. Today it’s a campus boasting many beautifully maintained historical buildings. I was invited to lunch with some terrific members of the faculty and staff at one of these turn of the century buildings and it was there that the subject of music and musical instruments came up. American Studies Professor John Pettigrew mentioned that the Martin Guitar Factory was nearby and when my eyes lit up my host, Deborak Zacarakis, the director of the Zoellner Center for the Arts immediately arranged for me to see it.

IMG_4759To many in the know, Martin is one of the finest guitar makers in the world and it’s certainly one of the oldest. Many practitioners of the old timey music pioneered by the Carters (and sometimes Maybelle Carter herself) played Martin guitars.

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So, with hours of lunch I was at the Martin Guitar Factory in Nazareth with archivist and head of Artist Relations Dick Boak. Upon learning that I was a filmmaker who was touring with a film about the Carter Family, the first thing Dick did was show me a letter from Mother Maybelle Carter to the Martin Guitar company from 1929 requesting information about their special Hawaiian Steel guitar. To see this document was such a treat for me. Then Dick proceeded to show me the way guitars are made there and he also gave me a tour of the museum with some mind-boggling artifacts like the tool bench and tools used by C.F. Martin himself in the 1830s.

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This tour certainly put me in the proper historical frame of mind for the screening of The Winding Stream at the Zoellner Center. I am very grateful to everyone at Lehigh who made my visit so memorable.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Beth Harrington.

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