For the Sake of the Song: Sanitized, Still Essential

No discussion of Houston music history is complete without mentioning Montrose folk venue Anderson Fair. The list of performers alone is staggering, but there's more to the old spaghetti restaurant than just the people who've graced the stage, and that's what documentary For the Sake of the Song, which screens at 7 p.m. tonight at the Landmark River Oaks Theatre as a fundraiser for the Southwestern Alternate Media Project (SWAMP), delves into.

And although anything that isn't the highest praise for Anderson Fair and the performers is left on the cutting-room floor, the interview footage from many of the major players - Eric Taylor, Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams, Vince Bell, Robert Earl Keen, Jr., Lyle Lovett, even Guy Clark - is certainly riveting and entertaining, especially for aficionados.

There's also plenty of performance footage in the mix, perhaps none more meaningful, poignant and historically pertinent than Townes van Zandt, who might be the poster child for Anderson Fair, although he is really probably more tied historically to long-defunct venues like the Old Quarter and Sand Mountain.

But that's a minor quibble, a footnote detail.

The movie also features many of the old timers who've been hanging around the joint since the hippie heyday. Manager Tim Leatherwood and his crew cover the historical hodge-podge with charming anecdotes, philosophical musings and vintage photos.

What comes across is the operational truth: Anderson Fair is a collective of like-minded people who donate their time and their energy to keeping an institution alive.

Filmmakers Jim Barham and Bruce Bryant certainly dodge a few issues on purpose, most notably rampant drug use and its side effects. In that sense, For the Sake of the Song is a calculatedly sanitized history - accentuating the positives, burying the negatives.

One Austin reviewer called it "more a canonization than a documentary." But anyone interested in the history of the Houston music scene and one of the seminal anchor venues for the Texas singer-songwriter genre must see this movie.

7 p.m. tonight at the River Oaks Theatre, 2009 W. Gray. Tickets are $20.

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