Peter Rowan film – The Tao of Bluegrass

Peter Rowan has always been something of a flamboyant figure, perhaps unintentionally. From a skinny kid playing with one of Bill Monroe’s most radical versions of The Blue Grass Boys, through stints as a yodeling rocker in Seatrain, and on to landmark recordings with Bill Keith and Clarence White as Muleskinner, and David Grisman and Jerry Garcia in Old and in the Way, Rowan has always gone his own way.

He’s also had a string of successful solo projects, and collaborations with the likes of Tony Rice and Norman Blake, most based primarily on his own compositions, several of which (Panama Red, Midnight Moonlight) have reached iconic status.

Rowan’s voice is both unique and memorable, which combined with a commanding presence and quirky personality, gives him a powerful one-two punch. He cuts quite a figure on stage.

Sounds like an artist who’s a natural for visual media, yes?

Yes, indeed, according to the folks at South 40 Films, who are hard at work on a Rowan documentary film, titled The Tao of Bluegrass- A Portrait of Peter Rowan. It will include discussions with Peter, and interviews with many of the celebrated artists with whom he has worked over a 45 year career in music.

Here’s a look at the trailer:


I had a chance to chat with Christine Funk, who is producing and directing the movie, and she shared some thoughts about Peter and why she sees him as a perfect subject for a documentary film.

“As a volunteer music promoter in the small town of Creede, Colorado, I invited Peter Rowan to come play at the Creede Repertory Theatre one summer in early 2000 – I didn’t know his music, but Sandy Monroe told me he’d put on a great show and loves to come to out of the way places to share his music. When I picked Peter up at the airport in Alamosa he was not hard to miss with his big hat and guitar in hand. He promptly fell asleep as I drove the hour to Creede so any nervousness I had as what to say to him vanished.

When I heard his music that night at 8500 feet his lyrics and storytelling captured my imagination. I could see his songs so to speak – that must be the filmmaker and photographer in me.

He needed oxygen at the intermission to catch his breath which had me a bit worried, but came to find out in typical Peter fashion he finished with his most noted songs and brought everyone to their feet. This is something I saw again and again during the years I followed him around – he can capture a mood and a crowd of fans to steal the show and when he plays with other great musicians he creates unique moments that only Peter’s spontaneity can achieve.

As a part time filmmaker and producer, the thought of my next documentary didn’t really formulate until I met Peter again in Mill Valley the next summer. I saw him at the famous Sweetwater where he had another energy filled show telling the same stories I heard the summer before but it felt fresh almost like it was the first time he had ever told. In the audience where some of his most loyal fans and I could feel the love.

We met up again to see a musical called Maddox and Rose where he was the musical producer, and on the drive home after the show I asked him if he’d be interested in me making a documentary about his long-standing career. I just knew that he would be an interesting character to follow around, to learn more about bluegrass and beyond. His songwriting, creativity incorporating other genres into his music, and noted legendary status as a Blue Grass Boy struck me as an important part of our Americana musical history worth documenting.

He has played with so many from the Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe to the celebrated Jerry Garcia. Two worlds apart but Peter has the unique ability to bring those worlds together in his music.”


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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.