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Harry Smith's Old Weird America

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The legendary eccentric Harry Smith was a packrat. The room he lived and died in at Manhattan's Chelsea hotel overflowed with books and papers about parapsychology, tarot, molecular physics, poltergeist phenomena, spiritualism, black magic, kabbalah and the occult. Smith also hoarded what remains the finest and most complete collection of more than 8,000 original 78-rpm records and cylinder recordings of rural American folk and blues music of the '20s and '30s. In 1952, the Smithsonian Folkways label released Smith's collection as three double-LP sets titled the Anthology of American Folk Music, which is credited by historians as a catalyst in kicking off the folk music revival of the '50s. It also still remains one of the most important documents in existence for folklorists and ethnomusicologists, and it remains in print as a six-CD box set. The 1997 film Harry Smith's Old Weird America documents a series of concerts that took place in conjunction with the anthology's re-release, featuring performances of songs from the collection by Elvis Costello, Sonic Youth, Richard Thompson, Philip Glass and others, plus archival footage and interviews. The film opens at Zeitgeist Friday night. On Thursday, an ensemble of local musicians will perform an improv-jazz tribute to the anthology. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Alison Fensterstock

ImproviSational Arts Council tribute to Harry Smith

8 p.m. Thu., Jan. 29

Harry Smith's Old Weird America

7 p.m. Fri., Jan. 30

Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net

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