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Jenny Scheinman’s “Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait” Weaves Together Music and Film

November 9, 2018

March 4 Concert Includes 1930s Documentary Footage of Mill Town Residents

Middlebury, VT— Acclaimed composer, singer, and violinist Jenny Scheinman invites us into the captivating visual world of Depression-era filmmaker H. Lee Waters in the multi-media performance Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait on Saturday, March 4 at the Mahaney Center for the Arts. Seasoned with bluegrass, county, and roots notes, this performance will take audiences on a journey back nearly 100 years into America’s industrial past.

Scheinman and her musical sidemen, Robbie Fulks and Robbie Gjersoe, have created a live soundtrack of new folksongs, fiddle music, and field sounds to accompany Waters’s fascinating footage, now masterfully reworked by director Finn Taylor. The result is a reflection on “the gaze” both then and now; the evolution of mill towns; and a striking commentary on race, class, and the American experience. Audiences can stay after the performance for a Q&A with the artists.

“Scheinman [has] a distinctive vision of American music, suffused with plainspoken beauty and fortified all at once by country, gospel, and melting-pot folk, along with jazz and the blues”—New York Times.

About the Performance

Scheinman developed this performance in collaboration with Duke Performances. She writes, “H. Lee Waters was a journeyman portrait photographer in Lexington, North Carolina, whose business fell on hard times during the Great Depression. He came up with another plan to make a living: make regular people into movie stars! He got hold of a movie camera and travelled to towns throughout the Piedmont region. He would film as many people as possible in public places, then return several weeks later to show the footage in the towns’ movie theaters…between 1936 and 1942 he worked tirelessly to create 118 movies, compiling one of the most comprehensive documents that we have of American life at that time.”

Scheinman began work on the project in 2009, writing over three hours of music for the project, and eventually narrowing her material down to one hour to match film director Finn Taylor’s carefully curated editing. These are America’s home movies. They contain a clue to our nature, an imprint of our ancestry. They were shot before Americans had sophisticated understanding of film, and capture truthfulness that one is hard-pressed to find in this day and age, now that we are immersed in a world of social media, video, and photography. These people can dance. Girls catapult each other off seesaws and teenage boys hang on each others’ arms. Toothless men play resonator guitars on street corners, and toddlers push strollers through empty fields. They remind us of our resilience, and of our immense capacity for joy even in the hardest of times.”


About the Musicians

Jenny Scheinman is a violinist, fiddler, singer, and composer originally from Northern California who has worked extensively with Bill Frisell, Bruce Cockburn, Ani DiFranco, Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Nels Cline, Rodney Crowell, Myra Melford, Robbie Fulks, and Mark Ribot, and has also garnered numerous high-profile arranging credits with Lucinda Williams, Simone Dinnerstein & Tift Merritt, Bono, Lou Reed, and Sean Lennon. She has taken the #1 Rising Star Violinist title in the Downbeat Magazine Critics’ Poll and has been listed as one of their Top Ten Overall Violinists for over a decade.

Robbie Fulks is a country singer, writer, and musician who has released twelve records on major and independent labels. Radio appearances include: NPR’s Fresh Air, Mountain Stage, and World Cafe; PRI’s A Prairie Home Companion; and WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. TV credits include Austin City Limits, the Today Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Last Call With Carson Daly, and 30 Rock.

Robbie Gjersoe is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, songwriter, and occasional engineer and producer who has worked on a variety of musical projects wide-ranging in style and content for the last 30 years. He plays guitar, bottleneck slide, resonator, dobro, baritone ukulele, mandolin, nylon string, cavaquinho, viole, 12-string, lap steel, pedal steel, and bass.

Associated Events

Audience members can explore the themes of Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait further in two associated events: On Friday, March 3, Professor Emeritus of the History of Art and Architecture Glenn Andres will give an illustrated lecture on “Middlebury as Mill Town,” exploring Middlebury’s past as a center of mill industry. He will touch on the significance of the local textile and marble industries, their role in shaping the town, and the people whose lives were intertwined with them. Offered as part of the Fridays at the Museum Series, this talk will begin at 12:15 P.M. at the Mahaney Center for the Arts Dance Theatre, and will be free and open to the public.

Concertgoers can also enjoy the second associated event: a free, pre-concert gallery talk on Saturday, March 4 at 7:00 P.M. at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. Art history students will give a brief introduction to the exhibition American Faces: A Cultural History of Portraiture and Identity. The museum will be open for pre-concert visitors from 6:00–8:00 P.M.


Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait will be presented by the Performing Arts Series, the Department of Film and Media Culture, and the Committee on the Arts, and is funded in part by the Expeditions program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the six New England state arts agencies.


Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait will take place on Saturday, March 4, 2017, at 8:00 P.M. at the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts, in Robison Hall. The pre-concert gallery talk will begin at 7:00 P.M. at the Museum. The Mahaney Center is located on the campus of Middlebury College, at 72 Porter Field Road, just off Route 30 south/S. Main Street. Free parking is available curbside on Route 30 or in the Center for the Arts parking lot, in rows marked faculty/staff/visitors. Tickets are $20 for the general public; $15 for Middlebury College faculty, staff, alumni, emeriti, and other ID card holders; and $6 for Middlebury College students. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call (802) 443-MIDD (6433) or go to


Photo captions:

(top right, 2nd from top left): Jenny Scheinman will present “Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait” at the Mahaney Center for the Arts March 4. Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

(top left): Jenny Scheinman will present “Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait” at the Mahaney Center for the Arts March 4. Photo by Erik Jacobs for NPR

Mahaney Arts Center
Middlebury College
South Main St./Route 30 South
72 Porter Field Rd.
Middlebury, VT 05753
(802) 443-3168 phone
(802) 443-2834 fax