Film Review: Long Way to the Top – Excellent documentary on touring musicians
Late Morning Films documentary Long Way to the Top is the story of some pretty remarkable musicians and their life on the road. How I came to find out about this film is a story in and of itself; it involved a conversation with singer songwriter David Ramirez, who is prominently featured in the film, and filmmaker Rob Montague. After talking at David’s show in Cleveland, Ohio, we exchanged info and Rob sent over the film. I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but this is an amazing film that sheds light on the life of touring musicians and de-romanticizes the rock and roll lifestyle.
If you think touring musicians are doing it for the fame and fortune, you have to realize that it’s a very small pool of people seeing that kind of success. More often than not it’s common people with uncommon creative talent doing what they do for a living because of their deep passion for it. And some, as the film shows through interview snippets, do it because it’s really the only thing they do well. We, the listeners, are the better for it. Creatives like the artists featured on Long Way to the Top are the people that help the rest of us make sense of the world.
The film features Ramirez, Joshua James, Allessandro Cortini of Nine Inch Nails, Eddie Reyes from Taking Back Sunday, Scott Shriner from Weezer, and many, many more. These first person narratives from artists help viewers get a sense of why and how musicians go about the process of creating and performing their music.
The best part of the film is definitely the sense of the mixed emotions of tour. Some artists talk about the difficulties of simple things like finding places to eat and do laundry. Others talk about the long, burdensome hours in a tour bus with band mates. Each band and each tour has a story all its own, but the commonalities between artists found in this documentary helps me as a writer in the music industry have a better idea of what they go through. In short, you’ll be less of a jerk to your favorite artist if he decides not to do autographs or if he can’t sing three encores. These artists are going at this for the long haul… and the title of the film seems appropriate; it is a long way to the top.
Cameos from a few of my other favorites, Noah Gundersen and Matthew Mayfield, gave the film a nice touch. It’s obvious that Late Morning went out of their way to secure a number of artists. The variety of voices really supported the key argument of the film that tour is a struggle, but a deep passion for musicians. The argument was punctuated with music from Ramirez’s “Stick Around” and “Ball and Chain” which both highlight the struggles of touring musicians. It’s the perfect fit.
There’s a pointed scene with David Ramirez driving in his small red car. He’s on the phone talking to the venue where he’s driving, hoping traffic will calm down enough for him to even get to the show. The anxiety for him is palpable for the viewer. It’s evident in that and many other scenes just how fundamentally human these artists really are. It also highlights just how tenuous the whole touring lifestyle really can be. From selling merch to making it to shows, there’s so much more to story than what the average concert goer can even grasp.
In short, this is a must see film for fans of the kind of artists we cover on EarToTheGround. The film has moments of levity (including a hilarious scene of a band clearly buzzed on their day off) as well as extensive discussion of the economic and logistical hardships of touring lifestyle. It’s exactly the kind of documentary music fans want to watch with a killer soundtrack, great anecdotes from artists you know, and plenty to learn about life on the road. It might be a long way to the top, but it’s obvious that most of these artists see the journey as worthwhile. You should join them.