The Mountain Minor: Film Brings Appalachian Music to Life
By Kara Martinez Bachman
When filmmaker Dale Farmer heard the stories of his grandparents, their tales made an impression on him. Things had been rough for his elders. When times got too hard in eastern Kentucky, they had to migrate to Ohio to find work. It happened during the golden years of bluegrass, and his grandparents — and others who lived and breathed the music of the mountains — were often torn between the music of their origins and that of their new locales.
In his film, “The Mountain Minor,” writer and director Farmer explores the issues faced by people such as his grandparents, with the central question being: “Where is your home, and how does the music play into that?”
Although the feature isn’t specifically factual about his grandparents, it’s been informed and inspired by his family history. It’s the story of a musician who leaves his present home in Ohio to return to the home of his childhood, in the Kentucky mountains. First, however, he must pass down to his grandchildren the many generations of this “mystic” music.
The film’s description sums it up: “Deeply infused with the traditional Appalachian musical genres of old time and bluegrass, The Mountain Minor tells an overlooked story about the people and culture behind the resurgence of American roots music today, and highlights artful responses to the difficult circumstances of human migration.”
Farmer’s interest in creating the feature came from his past work experiences. “I used to make training videos, and that sort of thing, for the state of Ohio,” he explained.
He combined that with his love for the music, and the concept of The Mountain Minor was born.
“I’ve been a bluegrass and old-time musician since I was a kid,”
he said, explaining that he used contacts in the business to get the project going. He contacted musicians he knew and “they were all excited about the idea.”
The film includes performances by some of these people, and the main cast includes musicians Elizabeth LaPrelle, Dan Gellert, Asa Nelson, Trevor McKenzie, Ma Crow, Susan Pepper, Mike Oberst and Hazel Pasley. Susan Pepper is also the film’s producer.
The Mountain Minor did well at film festivals, snagging awards and attention. Since its release in October 2019, Farmer took to the road with screenings, bringing the feature to communities that appreciated its message and had interest in discussing its ideas. Lengthy jam sessions following the screenings weren’t uncommon either. Farmer’s goal was to bring the film to more people and he reached those early goals for the film, including what he called a “realistic” goal of “having it in 50 theaters.”
One goal of the project seems quite important to Farmer. He said he strives to present an accurate and well-rounded portrayal of mountain life and traditional music. Too often, he said, it’s all “so badly stereotyped” onscreen.
“I want young Appalachian people to see it,” he stressed. “There is so much substance behind it, and so much history behind it.”
He explained that he had a source of direct connection to the music’s origins, via his grandparents. They were the real deal. There’s something lamentable, though, about the fact that current young musicians won’t have that direct link. They’ll never be able to hear the stories of the old ways from a direct source. This is why Farmer took it upon himself to represent these ways onscreen.
With The Mountain Minor, however, Farmer hopes to in some way fill in those missing pieces for youngsters who don’t know what life is like without the internet. He hopes to show them how it really was, and in part, keep the spirit of his grandparents going. The tales they told — tales that inspired this film — might just be the best route to keeping the music alive.
The movie is available on Amazon and currently has a five-star rating by viewers. To follow the film and discover opportunities for viewing, visit the production’s website at Themountainminormovie.com.