Sam Shephard has called folksinger Ramblin' Jack Elliott "a wandering true American minstrel." This entertaining and engaging documentary by his daughter Aiyana Elliott skillfully conveys his vagabond life as a contemporary troubadour always on the road in search of new adventures. Such a lifestyle made it nearly impossible for him to be a good father, but it sure fed his yearning to connect with the poetry of ordinary people caught somewhere between now and then in a world of work, love, and dreaming.
Elliott ran away from his life in Brooklyn at age fifteen, leaving behind his doctor father and controlling mother for work in a traveling rodeo. It was there he learned how to play the guitar. Years later, Elliott fell under the swoon of adoration for America's most gifted folksinger, Woody Guthrie. This living legend taught him all the tricks of the trade. The two men shared a love of the road.
In 1955, Elliott married the first of four wives and traveled to Europe where he became very popular, especially in England. Back in America during the 1960s, he had a formidable influence on Bob Dylan. When the career of this ambitious singer/songwriter took off, Elliott was not pleased. He lacked the focus to achieve that kind of success. Several managers and friends criticize his inability to plan ahead or to be responsible by arriving on time for performances.
Throughout this documentary, Elliott veers away from personal commentary on his emotional life or failures as a parent. Instead, he demonstrates a childlike love for folk music and the joys of being a hard traveling man. Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Odetta, and Kris Kristofferson provide colorful commentary on Elliott's 30-year career.
In 1995, the patient folksinger won a Grammy for the Best Traditional Folk album for South Coast, his first recording in nearly 20 years. In 1998 President Clinton awarded him a National Medal of the Arts. The last image in this documentary is Ramblin' Jack on a horse still playing a cowboy riding off into the sunset. We're challenged to tip our hats to this folksinger who found his own way into the dream he had as a boy.