From Mountains To Metropolis (2012)

by Rachell Berry and Stephanie Cook

Whether or not they learned at their father's knee, these musicians keep a Southern musical tradition alive in Birmingham, Alabama.

Filmmaker Statement:

This film is centered on the old-time music community in Birmingham, AL. Old-time music is a style of string band music that was developed in the agrarian Appalachian region of the United States. Though often confused with its modern relative, old-time music is the predecessor to bluegrass. The primary instruments played in old-time music today are the banjo, guitar, fiddle, and upright bass. The old-time music styles that were developed in the South resulted from the intermingling of African slaves and European immigrants. The banjo was developed from gourd instruments that originated in Africa, such as the banjer. Irish settlers put their traditional folksongs to stringed instruments and Africans added the banjo and rhythmic styles, to produce folk music on American soil. This mixture of different cultures on a land that was new to all of them created the raw sounds sung and played through the mountains of Appalachia. Southern old-time music is reminiscent of cornbread, whiskey, life on the farm, and faith. Sacred songs, ballads of love, and simple tunes about agrarian life are all part of this musical tradition. The old-time community in Birmingham is tightly interwoven with the Friends of Old Time Music and Dance (FOOTMAD) contra dancing community. Both old-time music and contra dancing are still practiced throughout Appalachia in homes, jam sessions, and music festivals. The old-time music community in Birmingham actively keeps the tradition of southern old-time music alive by meeting at least three times a month in peoples homes to hold jam sessions. Contra dances are held twice a month at the YWCA in downtown Birmingham and the dances are always accompanied by a live band.

Discussion Questions
  • What are some differences in the social settings in which Old-Time and Bluegrass music are played today?
  • From where did these different styles of Old-Time and Bluegrass playing/plucking originate?

  • What community heavily influenced the development of old-time music in the South?


  • How can carrying on the tradition of Old-time music benefit Birmingham's local community?
  • How can we preserve traditions such as Old-time music and make them relevant for our society today?

  • Why might certain socioeconomic groups have found Old-Time music appealing?


The Alabama Folklife Association

Friends Of Old Time Music And Dance (FOOTMAD)

“Possum Up a Gum Stump: Home, Field & Commercial Recordings of Alabama Fiddlers"

Further Reading:

"Black Banjo Songsters in Appalachia": Conway, Cecelia. "Black Banjo Songsters in Appalachia." Black Music Research Journal 23.1/2 (2003): 149-166

"The Country Dance": Sharp, Cecil and Dolmetsch, Mabel “The Country Dance” The Musical Times, Vol. 57, No. 875 (Jan. 1, 1916), pp. 24-25