Review by Janet Kwiatkowski
Pre-performance backstage photographs by Jennifer Starr
An all-star line-up of artists and friends gathered to celebrate the life and music of Levon Helm at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The flow of talent was staggering and ranged from Helm’s contemporaries – Roger Waters, Jorma Kaukonen, John Prine, Allen Toussaint, Mavis Staples, Joe Walsh and Gregg Allman – to younger musicians, including My Morning Jacket, Ray LaMontagne, Eric Church, John Mayer, Deirks Bentley, Jakob Dylan, Robert Randolph and Grace Potter.
The concert was a benefit to support the lasting legacy of Helm by helping his estate keep ownership of his Woodstock home, barn and studio, and to keep the music flowing at the famous Midnight Ramble sessions.
With a career spanning over 50 years, Levon Helm has left behind a rich musical heritage. From his earlier years with Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan and the Band, to his recent Grammy Award wins for “Dirt Farmer,” “Electric Dirt,” and “Ramble at the Ryman,” to his legendary Midnight Rambles, Helm’s influence was far reaching. His spirit and sound had a universal draw and touched the lives of countless musicians and fans.
To that end, the Studios have initiated a fundraising program that will allow Midnight Rambles to continue apace at the historic barn on Plochmann Lane.
Those who’ve attended a Ramble know that few experiences match the incredible music and camaraderie that goes on within those walls. Even with Levon gone, his bandmates and their special guests will keep his memory alive and keep the barn rockin’.
Levon Helm – drummer-vocalist with Rock & Roll Hall of Famers the Band and his own three-time Grammy Award-winning Levon Helm Band – passed away last month after a lengthy battle with cancer, just a few weeks short of his 72nd birthday, which is Saturday (May 26).
Helm was also the host of the legendary Saturday night Midnight Rambles, which took place in his Woodstock home/studio/barn. And at 8pm this Saturday, there will be one more very special Midnight Ramble in honor of Levon. Performers will be members of the Levon Helm Band and featuring the Dirt Farmer Band – Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Byron Isaacs, Justin Guip and Levon’s daughter Amy Helm.
As the posting on the Levon Helm website says, “Come and join us on Saturday, May 26th – the day Levon would have celebrated his 72nd birthday. We all felt the need to be together, and we’d like you to be there with us. It’s time for the healing to begin and we know Levon would want that to happen through music at the barn.”
Unfortunately, all of the tix – including standing room – are sold out for the birthday Ramble.
But there are several other Levon Helm tribute concerts that will be taking place throughout Nippertown during the upcoming weeks. Here are a few of them that we’re aware of:
On a day that grew more and more appropriately gray as I worked my way down to Woodstock via the West Saugerties/Palenville back roads, the sky opened up as little teardrops of rain fell. Many people were on a pilgrimage to say goodbye to Levon.
With satellite parking at three spots around town, this “public is welcome” memorial at Levon Helm’s studio and home ran like precise clockwork from 10am to 3pm, giving more than 2,100 fans the opportunity to pay their respects. The polite and saddened fans waited patiently to board school buses to be taken to the site of so many Midnight Rambles. The only way in was to board a bus and take the ride.
Any members of the press were asked to not take out any notebooks to scribble in, photographs were forbidden, and cellphones had to be off. “It’s the way Levon would have wanted it.” That was enough for me. This time, I was going first and foremost, as a fan and admirer.
Levon Helm at the Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA, North Adams, 6/26/11
Story by Bob Girouard
Photographs by Matt Mac Haffie
I can’t imagine a world without Levon Helm. My world, your world and the lives of everyone he touched. The magic he created with his drumming and voice – never to be duplicated again – is hard for me to even fathom.
Several years ago, I had the rare privilege of getting to know the man and regularly visited with him. Initially awestruck at being in his presence, he quickly put me at ease as only he could with his larger-than-life persona. There was that familiar twinkle in his eye along with an approving nod… making me feel like had always been a part of his family. To Levon, it was never about the accolades or fame, it was about making the music.
As a fellow drummer, I was blown-away that he treated me like a peer and would always spend a generous amount of time shedding his light on the “how-where-and-why’s” of the instrument, his own lineage and the true stories behind some of the greatest music ever made. The hours seemingly went by like minutes, which made me hunger for more.
Levon Helm (left) with Ramble On The Road and Bob Weir, at moedown 2011
Story and photographs by Stan Johnson
A buddy called to tell me about Levon Helm’s passing. We had talked often about going to one of Levon’s Midnight Rambles in Woodstock, but now all that’s left is memories.
And there were many good ones. My favorite Band show was in 1986 at JB’s Theatre, a former roller rink in Albany’s Westgate Plaza, now a music store. It was the entire Band line-up except, of course, for Robbie Robertson, who never re-joined the Band following the Last Waltz. JB’s was packed, but during a few of the quieter numbers, the audience in front and in the middle actually voluntarily sat down on the floor so everyone in the back could see. (I’ve never seen this happen at any other show anywhere.) The place seemed to shrink from a crowded, standing-room-only barn to an almost intimate, large living room.
I can’t remember much of the set, but I think you can find it on the internet. What I do remember was that they played so well together that I finally realized why Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and George Harrison had such high opinions of these guys.
– Levon Helm at the Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA, North Adams, 6/26/11
By Greg Haymes
Photographs by Matt Mac Haffie
Levon Helm was the Rock of Ages, the stalwart, steady backbeat for the Band. Helm passed away this afternoon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He had long been battling throat cancer. He was 71 years old.
A statement posted on his website this afternoon states simply, “Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon. He was surrounded by family, friends and band mates and will be remembered by all he touched as a brilliant musician and a beautiful soul.”
Drummer. Mandolinist. Actor. Singer. Oh, what a singer…
For years now, Helm was at the helm for regular Midnight Ramble concerts in his home in Woodstock. If you were ever lucky enough to attend one, then you know just how truly special those magnificent shows were. And you marveled at sitting or standing just a couple of yards away from where one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll drummers was plying his trade.
In recent years, Helm’s star rose once again, and he was honored with Grammy Awards for each of his final three albums – 2007’s “Dirt Farmer,” 2009’s “Electric Dirt” and last year’s live “Ramble at the Ryman.”
The Grammy nominations have been announced, and we’d like to send our congratulations to a number of Nippertonians who have been honored for their work this past year, including producer Joel Moss, musicians Levon Helm and Steve Earle and the record label Planet Arts.
At the top of the list is Saratoga Springs engineer and producer Joel Moss, who is gunning for his sixth Grammy Award. He has been nominated in the Best Musical Theater Album category for his production of the cast album for “Anything Goes.” He’s previously snagged Grammys for his work with Tony Bennett, Ray Charles (including Album of the Year for “Genius Loves Company”), the compilation soundtrack for the film “Chicago” and the cast album of “In the Heights.”
A pair of veteran Woodstockers also earned nominations this year, with Levon Helm getting a nom in the Best Americana Album category for “Ramble at the Ryman,” with Steve Earle was honored with a nomination in the Best Folk Album category for “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.” Helm’s two previous albums – “Dirt Farmer” and “Electric Dirt” – both won Grammys. Earle has previously won Grammys for “The Revolution Starts…Now,” “Washington Square Serenade” and “Townes.”
And finally, let’s hear it for Planet Arts, the little record company that could. Tom Bellino’s small, not-for-profit jazz label based in Catskill has produced yet another album by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra that’s earned a Grammy nomination. Bob Brookmeyer was honored with a nomination in the Best Instrumental Arrangement category for “Nasty Dance,” which appears on VJO’s double-CD set, “Forever Lasting: Live in Tokyo.” VJO has previously won two Grammys for albums on the Planet Arts label – “The Way: Music of Slide Hampton” and “Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard.”
The Grammy Award winners will be announced on Sunday, February 12.
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