Picture a parade of superb classic and contemporary folk, roots, and rock musicians playing in your living room and you'll have some idea of the cozy feel of the concert film "Another Day/Another Time: Celebrating the Music of 'Inside Llewyn Davis.' "
Airing Friday at 10 p.m. on Showtime, the documentary, recorded Sept. 29 at Town Hall in New York, was produced by "Davis" filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen ("Fargo," "No Country For Old Men") and their "O Brother Where Art Thou" musical collaborator, acclaimed producer T Bone Burnett. The trio convened an amazing roster of artists, including a few of the actors from the film — opening Dec. 20 — to pay tribute to the artists and songs that serve as the backbone to the story's 1960s folk scene setting.
"What everyone's going for," says singer-multi-instrumentalist Chris Thile of Punch Brothers at the outset, "is to create an experience that could be had around a campfire" — since during the '60s, "all of a sudden, downtown New York was America's campfire."
It would be the lucky camper, indeed, who was able to lure the artists of "Another Day" over to their site, since they include the Avett Brothers, Joan Baez, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, the Milk Carton Kids, Patti Smith, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and Jack White. (For some reason, not everyone who appeared on the bill is represented in the film — which condenses three hours into about an hour and 40 minutes — with Elvis Costello.)
On a simple stage, playing acoustic instruments, the artists play solo and in various configurations, collaborating on covers and original tunes. The film also offers a peek backstage where the hootenannies — watched over by Burnett and the Coens — are even looser, and in the rehearsal space as the artists work out how to fit their voices and instruments together.
It's endearing to see Smith admit to nerves before heading onstage to slay "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" or Meloy clearly in awe of Baez as they work out their harmonies.
Among the many highlights is Meloy performing "Blues Run the Game," Welch, Rawlings, and Willie Watson getting down on "Midnight Special," and Giddens tearing up "S'iomadh Rid the Dhith Om/Ciamar A Ni Mi." The Milk Carton Kids are particularly a revelation with their close harmonies on "New York" and they also offer some dry humor to the proceedings. "For some reason T Bone Burnett has started asking us to do things," says Kenneth Pattengale. "I'm mowing his lawn next week," replies Joey Ryan. Thile and his Punch Brothers also offer supple assistance to many of the acts.
While "Another Day" is a standalone event, the best advertisement for the film itself is the appearance of "Inside Llewyn Davis" star Oscar Isaac, who talks about the pressure of performing on film versus the concert. "At least in the movie, I don't have to follow Jack White," he says with a gulp.
Isaac acquits himself quite well, performing a tender rendition of "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me" made famous by Dave Van Ronk, the folk singer whose memoir served as a loose blueprint for the title character of the film.
And as Seth Avett notes, "there should not be an element of exclusivity with folk music." "Another Day" shows that it is here for us all, the folks playing and the folks watching.