In the beginning was the word, and the Weavers had it. Before Peter, Paul and Mary, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie and Holly Near, the Weavers were to popular folk music what Buddy Holly was to rock'n'roll.
The documentary of a legend, "Wasn't That a Time!" shows the group coming out of retirement for a last pair of concerts in Carnegie Hall.
Their reunion in 1980 preceded by just nine months the death of their bass singer, Lee Hays, who had the idea of getting the group together again. Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman -- the other Weavers -- met at his house for a picnic and discovered the old harmonies were still intact.
A film crew recorded it. After some initial discomfort -- Seeger tells the camera to go away -- they accept it. It's an intimate view. The Weavers talk to the camera, and even if you didn't grow up with them, you begin to feel you know them.
Treatment becoming to a legend was not always theirs. In the McCarthy era, they were blacklisted. After three years of forced retirement -- banned at state fairs and nightclubs, dropped by their record label -- they began performing again in 1955 and became the first folk group to appear at Carnegie Hall.
Old photographs and a filmclip give mere glimpses of what they were like then: Ronnie Gilbert wearing a strapless gown with pushup stays, Lee Hays looking a little stagestruck, they seem, in retrospect, unsophisticated, and incredibly earnest. In the same way, an old clip of Peter, Paul and Mary singing Seeger's "The Hammer Song" seems like an heirloom now, and just as priceless.
Many people brought their children to the 1980 concerts to hear songs like "Wimoweh" and "Goodnight, Irene." Interviewed outside Carnegie Hall, members of the audience expressed different reasons for being there. One girl came "all the way from Wisconsin to see this concert. And to rollerskate." On stage, Gilbert sings with feeling, wiping away tears; Hays, in a wheelchair, makes jokes, and Hellerman and Seeger play and sing with verve.
It really was a time. You wish you had been there. You try to keep from clapping after each song. WASN'T THAT A TIME! -- West End Circle.