For the last five years, a group of talented musicians and filmmakers have been exploring Washington D.C.’s unique genre-blending guitar music and its heroes Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan. And unless you’re a part of the music or independent movie scene, this is probably news to you. Thankfully, new Montgomery Village residents Bryan Reichhardt and Suzanne B. Tolford are two of the artistic minds behind this interesting documentary project entitled “Anacostia Delta: The Legacy of DC’s TeleMasters.”
Reichhardt is an award-winning director with 30 years of production experience, four feature-length documentaries and credits including airtime on PBS, as well as production and editing for the DIY Network and CPB/Annenberg Channel. Tolford’s career spans 20 years in television, radio, music production and musical performance. Her credits include three original music albums, with a fourth in the works, an ADDY award, film score composer, documentary film producer, musical performances across the country an abroad, and volunteers service playing music in area hospitals.
On Friday, Sept. 4, “Anacostia Delta,” the brand new documentary celebrating a music unique to Washington, D.C. and championed by the late Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan, will be released on DVD and digital download. The film was produced by Boru Television in association with Newsgroup Communications, Inc., both DC area companies.
One September evening at the Birchmere Music Hall in 2015, 30 of DC’s finest musicians gathered to celebrate their heroes and display the virtuosic, genre-blending music they proudly call their own. In the center of the stage stood a Fender Telecaster, which was Gatton’s signature instrument. As the undisputed master of this music, Gatton would blend jazz, blues, country, swing, rock, and bluegrass—sometimes in the same solo. He grew up in Anacostia, and gave his neighborhood’s name to this musical culture unique to DC—The Anacostia Delta.
The Birchmere concert is the centerpiece of the film. Directed by Bryan Reichhardt with musical director John Previti, the film explores the universe of live music that permeated the culture of Washington, D.C. in the post-WWII era. “Every kind of music found a home here,” says Previti, who was born and raised in the area and was Gatton’s bassist for 19 years. “The Route 301 corridor had clubs, Georgetown had clubs, downtown DC had clubs. They were everywhere, and you could hear every kind of music played by the very best.”
The filmmaking team of Reichhardt, producer Suzanne Brindamour Tolford and cinematographer Mathieu Mazza interviewed the musicians and attended their rehearsals leading up to the 2015 concert. Previti brought together the musicians to create a program that traced the development of the music and celebrated the grand masters Gatton and Buchanan, but also celebrated unsung heroes, including Chick Hall, the influential owner of Bladensburg, Maryland’s Surf Club. The concert features stalwarts and leading lights of DC’s music scene: Dave Chappell, Anthony Pirog, Billy Hancock, Steve Wolf, and Tom Principato, among many others.
In between acts, the film takes viewers back in time with archival footage and interviews with family, friends, bandmates and celebrities who understand DC’s influential yet not-widely-known musicians. Nashville superstar Vince Gill states it simply: "I think a lot of people would perceive this to not be a hotbed of a music community like Nashville or Austin or L.A. or New York, but it was. It was every bit as good as anywhere else in the country you could ever go. Tons of great musicians from around here and all the musicians knew it—maybe the rest of the world didn’t but we all did."
In addition to Gill, the film also features interviews with internationally recognized guitarists and fans of Gatton and Buchanan, including Nils Lofgren, Albert Lee and Mike Stern. Lofgren grew up in suburban DC and was mentored by Buchanan. The longtime lead guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band said, "Looking back, and having traveled extensively, I still feel like Washington had one of the better music scenes in the country and I think still does."
The film also celebrates the musicians who carry the tradition forward. Before the pandemic closed down live performances, DC area venues featured performers like Chappell and Previti almost every night. “We’re celebrating a genre that doesn’t get much attention in the world,” says Reichhardt. “And we want to bring attention to it. It deserves that attention.”
While the pandemic continues and live performances remain limited, the film is an outstanding return for viewers to the legendary Birchmere for a joyful, jaw-dropping experience of extraordinary musicians who proudly call Washington, D.C. their home. “Anacostia Delta: The Legacy of DC’s TeleMasters” is available as a digital download and DVD with bonus features from www.AnacostiaDelta.com.