Deep Throat famously said, “Follow the money.” But after seeing two documentaries at the Clairidge this week, one on Johnnie Carson, the other on David Bromberg, I would say, “Follow the young magicians.” Who knew that both the king of late night television and one of the most iconic and electrifying musicians of the 1970’s both followed the same path out of difficult family environments and onto the stage?
Until this week, I knew nothing about film festivals or David Bromberg, really. But I think I can safely say that a film festival works when you find yourself talking to a complete stranger while standing in line, and that stranger happens to be to the director of one of the hottest tickets at the festival, which is how I met Beth Toni Kruvant, director of “David Bromberg: Unsung Treasures,” which debuted Friday night to a sold-out audience. In the end, she took her own tickets to the show out of her wallet and gave them to me so I could see the show.
Though my tastes more to Joni Mitchell and Carole King during the 1970’s, the second I saw the squiggly animation that opens the film, I recognized the album cover I’d seen so many times in college. All the cool guys had a copy. Oh that David Bromberg.
And all these years later, at the Clairidge this past Friday night, I was electrified by seeing clips of Bromberg’s high-energy rock-bluegrass-blues fusion — much the same way Beth Kruvant was when she stumbled on Bromberg playing at a Levon Helm Midnight Ramble in Woodstock two years ago. “David was on fire that night,” Kruvant told me during an interview at Raymond’s on Friday afternoon. “And I said to myself, where has he been?”
Bromberg famously quit his band and the rock star road life in 1980 and — as Kruvant found out — became a family man and violin maker. In 2002, he moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where he became a leader in the city’s arts revival. As I watched the Wilmington transformation in Kruvant’s masterful film, on the eve of the Montclair municipal elections, having seen both Church Street and Bellevue Ave. abuzz with life due to the film festival, I had to wonder if the themes sounded by our local politicians this year were all wrong. Maybe it’s not bean counting that will save Montclair, or real estate development. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the arts.
Montclair’s Bob Mellman gets a credit in the film for helping Kruvant, and was in the audience, along with Don Sarlin, a longtime Montclair resident who played bass for Bromberg very early on in Bromberg’s career. The film will likely be available soon for on-demand purchase.
“David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure” is Kruvant’s second documentary. Her first is the award-winning “Heart of Stone,” about the principal of Weequahic High School, who negotiated a deal between the Bloods and the Crips to create a no-violence zone in the school.