"There's no age to the spirit," folk icon Pete Seeger says toward the end of concert docu "Isn't This a Time! A Tribute Concert for Harold Leventhal"; indeed, young bands can only hope to have the energy 40 years hence as his durable folk group the Weavers exhibit today. "Isn't" will achieve ancillary glory preceded by fest invites and arthouse gigs.
“There’s no age to the spirit,” 85-year-old folk icon Pete Seeger says toward the end of timely and entertaining concert docu “Isn’t This a Time! A Tribute Concert for Harold Leventhal”; indeed, young bands can only hope to have the energy 40 years hence as his durable folk group the Weavers exhibit today. Helmer Jim Brown’s follow-up to his 1982 docu “The Weavers: Wasn’t That a Time?,” itself a look at the group’s eventful history and much-anticipated reunion concert, “Isn’t” will achieve ancillary glory — best paired with “Wasn’t,” which isn’t on disc — preceded by a flurry of fest invites and opportune arthouse gigs.
Built around a 2003 Carnegie Hall reunion concert lauding the folk movement’s long-time promoter, pic serves as a primer for auds unfamiliar with the Weavers’ roller-coaster history and McCarthy-era blacklisting. At the same time, folk music’s progressive thinking is emphasized by the durability and relevance of such chestnuts as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “and Goodnight Irene,” performed with all the vigor and immediacy of the original recordings (even Fred Hel-lerman’s faultless falsetto remains intact on the oft-covered “Wimoweh”). The newer generation gets into the act, as Guthrie — who points out he’s been performing with Seeger twice as long as his dad Woody knew him — is backed on some tunes by a band that includes his talented daughter, Sara Lee.
Other performers acquit themselves equally well: Leon Bibb performs a heartfelt “Shenandoah,” Theo-dore Bikel brings polished passion to traditional Russian tune “Turquoise Rings,” Peter, Paul & Mary nail a set that kicks off with “Have You Been to Jail for Justice” and Hellerman drives the lefty message home with a stunning take on “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
Though feisty Weaver Ronnie Gilbert pointedly proclaims the atmosphere of today “worse than McCar-thyism,” pic’s overarching message transcends political affiliations to affirm the art of aging gracefully and staying involved: “Participating is a wonderful thing,” enthuses Seeger.
Tech package is fluid and discrete, marred only by Brown’s penchant for interrupting the musical segs with voiceover interviews. Pic is dedicated to Weavers founding member Lee Hays, who died after the first film, and the elder Guthrie.
As if to prove their on-screen vigor is no fluke, the Weavers themselves filed out on stage following the Toronto fest’s first screening, zipping through a peppy four-song set during which the falsetto on “Wi-moweh” was once again flawless.