Update: Levon died on April 19, about two months after I saw this show. My thoughts are with Levon’s family and friends.
Ashes of laughter
The ghost is clear
Why do the best things always disappear
Please darken my door
– “Ophelia,” The Band
Source: Levon Helm Studios, used with permission
Last weekend I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Midnight Ramble by one of my favorite musicians, Levon Helm. He was a drummer/singer of The Band, and he now performs with his band and many special guests in his home/studio, a big, beautiful barn in the Catskills.
The atmosphere was so warm and welcoming. There were signs asking people to clean up after themselves as this was Levon’s home, and it really did have an intimate feel. The stage was on the ground floor of the barn with lofts all around it that allowed fans to look down over the stage.
Levon played the drums for much of the night, singing vocals first on The Band’s “Ophelia” in a rollicking version that was adored by the crowd. He came out from his drum kit and performed some songs on mandolin while seated on a stool in center stage.
Several Band songs were featured throughout the night, such as “This Wheel’s on Fire,” “King Harvest (Has Surely Come),” and “Remedy.”
I so enjoyed seeing the love and camaraderie between Levon and the other musicians. The feeling in the room was that these extremely talented people love music and love each other, and the fans that are attracted to the Ramble seemed the same.
I guessed that the final song would be “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Weight,” or “I Shall Be Released,” and when the opening notes of “The Weight” began, I felt an extreme happiness spread through me. Members of the Steep Canyon Rangers, the opening act, came out for it, with verses being shared all around, some performed on violin, mandolin, and tuba. Levon sang the “Miss Moses” verse.
Go down, Miss Moses, there’s nothing you can say
It’s just old Luke, and Luke’s waiting on the Judgment Day.
“Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?”
He said, “Do me a favor, son, won’t you stay and keep Anna Lee company?”
Amy Helm, Levon’s daughter, sang several songs and even played drums for a song. Band member Teresa Williams belted out an incredible performance of “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning.” (Thanks to the set list found here.)
In their opening set, the Steep Canyon Rangers, a bluegrass group, seemed surprised and thrilled by the enthusiastic response they received. They played with high intensity, their amazing a cappella performance of “I Can’t Sit Down” being my favorite of the songs they performed.
I also had the opportunity to visit Big Pink, the little house made famous by The Band album, Music from Big Pink, one of the greatest albums of all time. It’s also the spot where Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes was recorded with The Band.
The house is along a bumpy dirt road with “No Trespassing” signs everywhere, so we snapped a couple quick pictures and were on our way. And I am happy to report that it is still pink.
This was such a delightful trip that any music lover would love.
Update 2: I had the pleasure of going up again to see Levon’s former Band-mate Garth Hudson perform on August 10, 2012.
#96: 101 things in 1001 days. See at least five live shows.