"This is a show about how folk music gets reinvented" explained actor Garrett Hedlund midway through the three-hour roots music marathon Sunday night at Town Hall. The performance, titled Another Day, Another Time, was produced and organized by Americana mastermind T Bone Burnett. Burnett recruited a wide-ranging cast of artists, spanning genres and generations, to perform at Town Hall. With such a varied mix of musical traditions to draw from, the lifeblood of the show, which was dynamic, and at times amorphous, was collaboration and community. The music performed at Town Hall felt shared, with musician pairings likely and unexpected persisting as the main thread throughout the evening.
The premise for the concert was Inside Llewyn Davis, the new film from the Coen Brothers which captures the insular dignity, triumph and tragedy of the Greenwich Village folk community in the late 50's and early 60's. The movie, which is in some ways the musical sequel to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou is deeply rooted in the music of Dave Van Ronk and his contemporaries, which provided the musical backbone of Burnett's Town Hall production.
The main takeaway point of Sunday night's show, which also served as a benefit for The National Recording Preservation Foundation, was folk's flexibility. The performances often defied time, particularly in the first half of the evening, when Americana's new guard played new, original material right alongside well-worn standards. Some of the night's most exciting revelations could be found in that space between the new and the old, when lesser-known acts like Milk Carton Kids and Secret Sisters performed material that had the crowd guessing at whether it was the latter or the former. On Sunday night, old standards were reborn anew, and fresh compositions aged decades on stage. Conor Oberst turned Ian Tyson's Canadian folk anthem "Four Strong Winds" into a pained, bleeding Bright Eyes single, while Lake Street Dive's 2011 "You Go Down Smooth" came across as an well-aged jazz standard.
The second half of the show was anchored by legend and tradition in the hands of big personalities. Whether in Jack White's blues revivalism, in Patti Smith's mystic folk poetry, or Marcus Mumford's early 60's Dylan reimagining, the American music presented in the latter half tended more towards the more specific traditional folk aesthetics portrayed in the Coen Brothers' film. Joan Baez, the bill's eldest states(wo)man and undisputed legend of the evening, presided over many of the night's collaborations, while the Punch Brothers, the young bluegrass modernists who have become Americana fixtures, served as the evening's de-facto house band, accompanying roughly half of all performances throughout the show.
Almost three hours after the show's start, Marcus Mumford and Oscar Isaac, who plays the lead role in Inside Llewyn Davis, began singing "Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song), the movie's quasi theme song. Twelve years after T Bone Burnett reintroduced traditional American music to the masses, "Dink's Song" was suddenly and instantly contemporary, not unlike so much of the commercial acoustic pop music that has emerged over the last several years. Mumford, that genre's figurehead, then launched into "Farewell," a previously unreleased song from Bob Dylan, who began forever merging folk and pop shortly after the Coen Brothers' film ends. "We'll meet another day, another time," Mumford sang, but that wish had already been fulfilled.