By 1972, The Prison Concert was already an established, if infrequent event in the calendars of American jails; the blueprint had been set by the famous performances given by Johnny Cash at Folsom and San Quentin in 1968 and 1969 respectively. The huge success of these shows reassured the authorities and encouraged other musicians to follow suit.
It was against this backdrop that film-makers David Hoffmann and Harry Wiland were allowed into New York’s notorious Sing Sing prison, not just to make a film themselves, but to teach film-craft to some of the inmates. This relationship developed to such an extent that, encouraged by the prisoners, they persuaded the Department of Correction to allow the Thanksgiving Concert which is the subject of this film.
Many acts were approached to take part, and most refused, but Blues legend B.B. King and veteran folk singer and activist Joan Baez recognised the importance of the venture, and with enthusiastic support from The Voices Of East Harlem, comedian Jimmy Walker and performers from a few Sing Sing’s inmates, a unique and never-to-be-forgotten show was staged.
This DVD is not just the film of an extraordinary concert however, it is also a touching and enlightening documentary about the creation, production and filming of that concert, and equally works as a revealing tale of American prison life in the early 1970s.