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Step Back in Time With the Weavers

September 20, 1990|MIKE SPENCER

It started as a reunion at an ailing Lee Hays' Pennsylvania farm and turned into one of the most joyous, if little seen, films made in several decades.

"Wasn't That a Time!" from MGM/UA, is a moving, foot-stomping, hand-clapping chronicle of the final appearance of the Weavers, probably America's most memorable folk-singing group.

The quartet--Hays, Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman--hadn't been together in years when they gathered at the farm. But out of the session came the decision to return to Carnegie Hall, the scene of their greatest triumph, when in 1955 they broke the blacklist that had driven them from radio, television and the music charts.

Lovingly photographed by Jim Brown, Hays' godson, "Wasn't That a Time!" documents the preparations for the concert (which, incidentally, sold out in record time) and the performance itself, interspersed with old footage and interviews with Peter, Paul and Mary, Arlo Guthrie and others who credit the Weavers with inspiring their own careers.

Songs include such hits as "On Top of Old Smokey," "If I Had a Hammer," "Wasn't That a Time," "Goodnight Irene" and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine."

Hays, who had lost both legs to diabetes and who died before the film was released, introduces himself from his wheelchair as, "Lee Hays, more or less."

There wasn't a dry eye in the house then--and there won't be in yours now.

"The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time!" (1982), directed by Jim Brown. 78 minutes. No rating.

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