Robert Mugge’s Local Hero

Nov. 2, 2015
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John Peterson is a name that means nothing outside his hometown, but in Muncie, Indiana, he’s a local hero. Peterson is the subject of Robert Mugge’s documentary, Giving Up the Ghosts: Closing Time at Doc’s Music Hall.

Mugge is one of America’s most respected music documentarians for his films on blues and zydeco, Ruben Blades and Sun Ra. Little wonder that much of Giving Up the Ghosts’ running time is given to artfully assembled performance scenes as Peterson, a keyboardist as well as physician (hence “Doc’s”), leads his capable jazz band through joyous renditions of Thelonious Monk, The Doors and Smokey Robinson. But heading a local band is only a small facet of Peterson’s accomplishments. With help from the community, Peterson purchased an abandoned shoe store on Muncie’s old main street and rehabbed it as a venue for touring bands and comedians and an outlet for local talent. His dedication to the project is credited with reversing the downslide of Muncie’s downtown.

The “Ghosts” in the film’s title refer to the belief that benign spirits haunt the Music Hall. One of Peterson’s helpers even says that they guided him in constructing the stage. Peterson claims to have never seen the ghosts, but acknowledges the metaphor. Muncie’s once bustling past was inspiration for rethinking the present.


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