Film documents Westport’s contribution to rock history
Updated 3:21 pm, Friday, July 14, 2017
Legendary rock bands like The Doors fronted by Jim Morrison; the Animals with Eric Burdon; Cream featuring Eric Clapton on guitar, Jack Bruce on bass and Ginger Baker on drums; the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck; and before his Led Zeppelin days, Jimmy Page, on guitar; plus Sly & the Family Stone and the Rascals were all in their prime in the mid-to-late 1960s. Every one of these bands has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And guess what? Between 1966 and ’68, they all performed in Westport at Staples High School.
The award-winning 2017 documentary film “The High School that Rocked” looks back at these extraordinary high school rock concerts that took place a half-century ago. The film was named First Runner Up for Best Short Documentary at the Albuquerque Film & Music Experience and earned the Jury Award for Best Regional Documentary at the SENE (Southeast New England) Film, Music & Arts Festival, in Rhode Island. There’s a special screening at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Ave. Tickets are $10.
The movie also serves as a catalyst for special concerts, panel discussions — there’s one following the screening — and theatre performances taking place this summer. The film’s title is also the name of an accompanying exhibition at the Westport Historical Society on view through Sept. 2.
Fred Cantor, producer of “The High School that Rocked,” co-curator of the exhibition at the historical society, and a ’71 Staples grad, provided some background during a recent interview. A number of years back, while he was in post-production for a film about another famous Westport-based rock band, The Remains, Cantor had an idea about making a documentary short on the high school concerts.
“I thought that it might be a great subject for the students in the Staples Media Lab to work on,” he said. “And later, through Facebook, I learned that three ’70 Staples classmates were talking about doing a book covering all of the concerts, that continued until 1975. Mark Smollin led that effort. Since he lives in California, I offered to — and ended up doing — research through old Staples newspapers, the back issues of a defunct local Westport newspaper, and old yearbooks located here.”
Many of these items, including vintage photographs, are on view at the Historical Society show, and the resulting eBook is called “The Real Rock & Roll High School.” Cantor, himself, went ahead with the documentary he had originally envisioned “with a focus on how the young students back then, including friends of mine who went on to become professional musicians, were impacted by those legendary concerts.”
He enlisted Casey Denton as the director. “He’s a Staples ’14 grad and a student in the Emerson College film program who did a fantastic job and was wonderful to collaborate with,” said Cantor. “I think we are going to hear a lot more about him in the future.”
Cantor also felt the material was perfect for expanded programming. “I thought the subject matter and visuals of the film would provide an ideal foundation for a Westport Historical Society exhibit. And I came up with the idea of doing a summer festival where different Westport cultural venues would be involved and do cross-promotion. Everyone was very receptive.”
After the screening, presented by the Westport Cinema Initiative, there is a panel discussion led by Dan Woog that includes Cantor and Denton, plus Dick Sandhaus (Staples ’67 class president), who was integral in launching the concert series. There’s a reception at the Westport Historical Society after the panel discussion. And lots more programming follows, including a free concert at 8 p.m. on Saturday night at the Levitt Pavilion with The Reunion Band consisting of Staples graduates including Brian Keane, Charlie Karp and Michael Mugrage.
Another panel talk with Staples’ grads happens at the Westport Library at 7 p.m. on Aug. 14 with Dan Woog, Ed Baer, who was one of the WMCA Good Guys, Charlie Karp, whose many credits include opening for the Doors as a young teenager, and award-winning guitarist and producer Brian Keane. Charlie Karp presents his own “Musical Memoir” program at the Westport Historical Society at 7 p.m. on Aug. 21. And the Westport Community Theater stages a reading of the Pulitzer-finalist from the ’60s, “Album.” Tentative date, Aug. 27.
“Westport, in its own way, was doing something significant and distinctive in the world of rock a half-century ago,” said Cantor. “It is the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, and it seemed like a natural thing to celebrate.” For information on the exhibition and programming, visit westporthistory.org.
In other music news: The Norwalk Public Library’s “Hello Summer” series features Sheri Miller, named one of Music Connection’s “Hot 100 Unsigned Artist, at 7 p.m. on July 20. The singer-songwriter, who accompanies herself on guitar and piano, is currently recording a new record in Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York. The Norwalk Public Library is located at 1 Belden Ave. in Norwalk.
Billy and the Showmen bring the R&B, Motown, funk and soul sounds to Wilton Library’s Summer Music & More series from 5-6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 20. Wilton Library is located at 137 Old Ridgefield Road in the heart of Wilton Center. Visit www.wiltonlibrary.org,
Norwalk drummer John Cutrone has vocalist Maria Tiscia with David Oliver on piano and Bill Conway on bass joining him at the Sono Seaport Seafood Restaurant, 100 Water Street, in South Norwalk, from 3-6 p.m. this Sunday. For information, call 203-854-9483.
The vocal-guitar jazz duo of Scot Albertson and Joe Carter perform at MacIt Cheese Restaurant, 8 Main St. in Norwalk from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday. Call 203-299-1896.
Mike Horyczun’s Sound Surfing column appears every Saturday in The Norwalk Hour. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.