Professor of Communication and Film Studies Michael Streissguth has been following the rock-blues band The Nighthawks for a long time, having first discovered the group while growing up outside of Washington, D.C. Today he calls the Hawks “the hardest working band in America.” Its members, now in their 60s, continue to tour across the country, particularly the Northeast. Given the Nighthawks’ longevity, Streissguth was surprised to discover that the band had never been the subject of a documentary – until now.
Streissguth wrote and directed Nighthawks on The Blue Highway, a 75-minute film that recently enjoyed a preview screening on the Le Moyne campus. He spent several weeks on the road with the members of the band, traveling with them to gigs in Old Saybrook, Conn., and Wilton, N.H., as well as Syracuse and Niagara Falls, N.Y. The documentarian set out to chronicle the Hawks’ struggles and triumphs, from entering into a record deal that sent the group into disarray in the early 1980s to winning its first national blues award in 2005.
Streissguth’s aim in creating the film was to tell a compelling story about the human experience, and to give viewers a sense of what it’s like to be on the road, playing night after night. He learned that it is not glamorous. It means driving long distances to get to shows just in time. However, as Streissguth also discovered, “The music and performing life gets in their blood and it’s hard to get away from it. You develop an appreciation and respect for artists who never retire.”
Even before the documentary was made, The Nighthawks were well known to many members of the Le Moyne community. Wenner has visited Le Moyne twice to speak to music journalism students. (Alumni, Luke Baker ‘12 James Butler ’14 and Delaney Lawrence ’15, helped to make the film’s pre-trailer.) The Hawks also have a strong following in the broader Syracuse area. Because of that, the preview screening which also served as a fundraiser for the Matt Shaw Fund, sold out quickly.
Next Streissguth plans to enter Nighthawks on the Blue Highway in international film festivals, and to continue to share the band’s story and music with other fans and audience members.
Communications & Film Studies at Le Moyne