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The Center of Nowhere (The Spirit and Sounds of Springfield, Missouri)


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The Center of Nowhere

If you've ever passed through the small city of Springfield, Missouri, on historic Route 66 or otherwise, you probably didn't give any thought to the berg's music history. There has never been something like Seattle's grunge scene or the fertile music incubator of Athens, Georgia happen in Springfield, nor has the city been home to legions of big name stars. But, as the subtitle of this film indicates, Springfield at one time had a spirit that influenced countless numbers of stars working in various genres of popular music.

At the heart of the Springfield sound was Lou Whitney, a much-beloved and now deceased producer who guided countless performers from his studio, called The Studio (the "center of nowhere" is how Whitney would sometimes refer to Springfield.) Just about every commentator here references Whitney, and that list is substantial: Dave Alvin, Robbie Fulks, Brenda Lee, Mike "Supe" Granda of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Kenyan rapper turned Americana artist Patrick Mureithi, members of the Del-Lords, Merle Haggard, perennial Missouri scenester Beatle Bob, Mary McBride and others. Musician and former pastor Hosea Bilyeu talks about the part church music played in shaping the Springfield sound while others, including Haggard, talk about Springfield's major score, the five-year television run of the Ozark Jubilee (ironically, Haggard could never get on the show.)

But it always comes back to Whitney, lovingly referred to by many artists as Uncle Lou, although many indicate he was more like a father figure. Also getting plenty of screen time are Papa Green Shoes (with members related to Whitney) and influential regional band the Skeletons (who were guided by Whitney.) Of course there's plenty of music, mostly vintage but also some from currently-working artists. Some interesting detours are taken too, like footage about the infamous Red's Giant Hamburg stand (hey, musicians gotta eat) and an explanation of how a version of the Chinese dish cashew chicken was invented in Springfield. It may have been the center of nowhere, but viewers of this fun and informative film will be thoroughly entertained and indeed, inspired to take a trip to Nowhere.

Parkway Media
Producers: Dave Hoekstra and Jamie Ceaser
Director: Tom Vlodek

Rating:

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