Back with the Band: Drummer-Turned-Filmmaker Produces My Morning Jacket Documentary

Once upon a time, a guy from Louisville named Christopher Guetig played drums for My Morning Jacket. Those were the hard-touring van years, between the release of the critically-acclaimed “At Dawn” and the 2003 breakthrough hit “It Still Moves.”

It’s an old story. Guy leaves band, band makes it big. But this is not an episode of “Behind the Music.” Guetig doesn’t really regret leaving the band for Los Angeles to pursue an acting career in 2002, when they were all still up-and-comers.

There are times now, he admits, when “it would be awesome” to still be a part of the band, now that they’ve gone from do-it-yourself club tours to playing Madison Square Garden and Saturday Night Live. But Guetig recognizes that My Morning Jacket might not have broken through to the cover of Rolling Stone without their current lineup.

“The band wouldn’t be as amazing with me in it. You have to have that perfect makeup of people and desires,” he says.

And when he met Michael Feld, a University of Southern California graduate film student and director interested in making a documentary about the band, Guetig signed on as producer with no hesitations. He suggested they chronicle My Morning Jacket’s October 2010 concert at the brand-new KFC Yum Center arena—all the boys home together for one big show.

Guetig called frontman Jim James with a pitch. He was a little nervous. It’s one thing to hang out with old friends, quite another to film them day and night during a busy, high-pressure week of rehearsals and preparation for a very big date.

“We talked normally, like we do, as friends,” says Guetig. “Then, it was like I had to ask a girl to Prom.”

But being an old bandmate has its perks—access that might not be granted to strangers, for one, in exchange for knowing your story will be told fondly by a friend. The band not only agreed, they liked the end product so much that they included Guetig and Feld’s short film “One Big Holiday” in the deluxe box set for 2011’s “Circuital,” making it essential viewing for any serious Jacket fan.

The film has also received screenings at the LA Music + Film Weekend and the Chicago International Music and Movies Festival. And now “One Big Holiday” comes home as well. The film screens Thursday at the Speed Art Museum on the opening night of the annual Flyover Film Festival.

“The fact that we get to come back to Louisville to show it is extremely exciting, because that’s where we filmed it, and that’s what it’s about,” says Guetig. “No matter how it would have happened, if it had been at The Palace or in Jim’s backyard, bringing the film back to Louisville was going to be special no matter what.”

Louisville isn’t just the setting for the film, which follows the band through town as they prepare for their show, including rehearsals with the Louisville Youth Orchestra, who backed them on stage at the arena. It’s a character in the film, along with former Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson and unofficial Highlands mayor (and former owner of iconic record store ear X-tacy) John Timmons, who both give interviews on why My Morning Jacket is so important to the community.

“We all have a home somewhere, whether that’s a city or a person or music, or whatever it might be,” says Guetig. “There’s always something we yearn for, that we try to go back to. That’s the heart of this film.”

The city is shot as lovingly as the band members themselves, who sit on park benches and in front of the Ohio River for interviews on what Louisville means to them. There’s the coffeepot in front of Lynn’s Paradise Café, the Squallis Puppeteers. There’s Waterfront Park, the skyline, the murals on Bardstown Road, and Courier-Journal music critic Jeffrey Lee Puckett in the background of an ear X-tacy scene. It is a veritable Louisville Bingo. It is, as Guetig says, a love letter to the city.

“We didn’t mean to make it so cheery and awesome, but Louisville and My Morning Jacket are cheery and awesome,” says Guetig. “When you shoot cotton candy, with a little dirt on it, you’re going to get cotton candy with a little bit of dirt.”

“Michael and I didn’t want to shoot a ‘Behind the Music,” he adds. “And we didn’t want to shoot a concert film. We wanted to do something different.”

Opening acts Wax Fang and the Louisville Youth Orchestra are also profiled, during rehearsals and in studio, and the film concludes with live footage from the October 29 concert. Fans stream into the Yum! Center, dressed for Halloween just like the band, who take the stage wearing matching Colonel Sanders costumes. “It’s always so crazy to come here and be with you in Louisville, Kentucky,” says Jim James. “It never fails to make me so emotional, playing these songs. This is where these songs come from.”

The crowd goes wild.

Guetig and Feld will answer questions about the film after the screening Thursday. The film is part of an evening of short films.

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