‘All the Labor’ gets second look at Roots Fest
by Matt Hudson
“The Gourds may look like stubble-faced auto mechanics or line cooks at a barbeque restaurant, but behind their everyman appearance is nearly 20 years of road-tested experience in the rock n’ roll business.
Their story was captured in the documentary “All the Labor,” which played at the Top Hat Lounge Sunday, capping off the River City Roots Festival. Doug Hawes-Davis, co-founder of the Missoula-based production outfit High Plains Films and founder of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, directed the film.
“The members of The Gourds are just everyday Americans who happen to also be great musicians and great artists and great songwriters,” Hawes-Davis said. “I think one of the things that is appealing about them is they don’t have the rockstar attitude that so many people in the industry seem to have.”
The documentary portrayed the Austin, Texas, band members in their modest homes with their regular families, telling jokes and drinking beer in a small garage practice space. Singer and guitarist Kevin Russell always ended a deep, emotional rework with a hearty laugh. The only remarkable thing about them as people was that the band members seemed very comfortable in their own skin.
Still, the focus is the music, and Hawes-Davis said he and his crew filmed around 15 live shows during the making of the film and used archival footage from the late ‘90s.
“We really concentrated on the performances because, to me, that’s the most interesting thing about them,” Hawes-Davis said.
The Gourds’ magnetic stage presence has gained a sizeable following in Missoula, where they have regularly stopped over the past decade. Before showing the documentary, which was first played in Missoula in April, the band performed on the Roots Fest stage to a crowd of shouting, writhing fans.
Inside the Top Hat, people continued to sing, cheering and stomping their feet to the documentary’s on-screen performances. It was exactly the kind of reaction Hawes-Davis wanted.
“If people feel they’re at a live concert at a movie, then you’ve achieved something,” he said.
Some of the film explored the mixed-genre space The Gourds occupy. Some may recognize them from their cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” which brought the band recognition but little money. But their 10 original studio albums are commonly relegated to a “roots-rock” label.
Their sound is rock music at its core, but draws from many influences. It’s infectious, but the band takes no shortcuts in writing their vast repertoire of songs.
“It’s not like a pop group that has an instant hook that you immediately understand,” Hawes-Davis said. “Once people put in that time with the Gourds and really listen, they’re hooked.”