Matt Kinman has always wanted to learn more. He wanted to learn more about traditional old time music, and as a teenager he walked out of his house and began a trek across the country. During his travels, in addition to the music of old time fiddle and banjo, he learned a whole lot more. Between hopping boxcars and hitching rides along the highways, he found people, stories and communities far removed from the frenetic pace of modern day America. He met artists, craftsman, farmers and storytellers. He communed musicians, fiddle makers, blacksmiths and gunsmiths. Through his years dotting the back roads of the country, the people and the stories stuck with him. Now, for the first time, Kinman and producer Ben Guzman of California-based Boxer Films are bringing these stories to light in The Back Porch Of America, a new documentary series set to premiere on The Bluegrass Situation next week.
Kinman and Guzman — himself a musician, and one-third of LA-based old time trio Triple Chicken Foot — met four years ago at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, West Virginia where the idea for the series was hatched. After some discussion, a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and support from Boxer Films and BGS, the two set out on the road with a small production crew. And for Kinman, it was an opportunity to finally document and show the world the people and the cultures he’d experienced and grown to love. “The idea is to try and document as much stuff as I can,” Kinman said during a phone interview while driving through Kansas. “Saddle makers, boot makers, people that did things all their lives in their communities, and now you gotta go to them in order to find it. If you understand the way people live, you understand their music, their culture, everything.”
For Guzman, an editorial producer based in Los Angeles, the chance to preserve the stories of a real and often forgotten America was what compelled him to take on the project. “So much of what we’re looking at, is people that make things, do things, and live this old way of life,” he said. “There is storytelling that goes on, music that goes on, food that goes on with it, and all these things are a way of life that may be gone if people don’t carry it on.” The first episode in the series tells the story of the Newberry family, who for five generations has made chairs by hand from the trees grown on their farm in Macon County, Tennessee. Then there’s the story of Arthur Grimes, a traditional Appalachian clogger who learned to buck dance after watching Doc Watson play music on the streets of Boone, North Carolina.
Despite initial apprehension from some of the people who were filmed, their trust in Kinman, Guzman and the crew became paramount. “I went to a lot of people that had been approached before to be filmed, and they wouldn’t because they were afraid,” Kinman said. “I’d played music with these people, and been in and out of their lives, and their response was Matt, we believe you wont make us look like idiots, we’ll do it. I’ve gotta respect them to make sure its being done legitimately, and that they are respected and shown in a good light.” And for Guzman, letting the subjects be their guide made all the difference. “I love hearing about other peoples’ lives, so that’s my basic starting point,’ he said. “When we walk in, after they get used to the cameras-Its however they would like to show us their life, you let them do the talking and showing.”
During shooting, they interviewed Houston Harrison, a Tennessee gunsmith who has since been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Their interview became a chance to capture Harrison doing what he loved to do: making guns and playing music. And for Harrison’s son, the opportunity to see his dad the way he remembers him. “He said to us, that video you made of my dad, when he passes away, I’m gonna play that at his funeral. You captured him perfectly,” Guzman said. “This is stuff for the families. It’s spot on, and if we can hit it spot on with the families, we know that what we’re telling the rest of the world is what’s within the boundaries and what they are comfortable with.” While the series highlights the work, music and art of its subjects, there’s another theme that that Kinman hopes is evident: Relationships. “You’ve got all these people that know all this wonderful stuff, they want to share it with somebody and want to teach them,” he said. “When you actually learn from somebody, you make a friend and carry them through your life. And every time you do it, you’ll think about them.”