The Family Jams: Only for Die-Hard ‘Freak Folk’ Fanatics


Only a true fanatical follower of the “freak folk” musical scene with a high tolerance for artless verité camerawork will find much merit in Kevin Barker’s extended home video. Following Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, and Vetiver as they tour the country in their cavalcade of vans, The Family Jams is little more than a crude collage of the musicians shooting the shit in hotel rooms and performing at small clubs. Opening his film with footage of his grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration, Barker muses on both the difficulties and joys of family life—a set of reflections he then attempts to apply to his “second family,” his group of musician friends. But while he insists on the communal nature of the songsmiths’ project—highlighted by their concert-ending “family jams,” in which all the musicians join together onstage—mostly these gatherings are nothing more than opportunities to spout muddled neo-hippie rhetoric and engage in impromptu noodling sessions. With little insight into either the musical process or what it means to be a makeshift family, Barker’s eye-gouging project definitively gives the lie to the notion that any asshole with a digital camera can magically turn out cinema.