Levon Helm Tribute Held at Mountain Jam Music Festival

Posted 03 Jun 2012 in Levon Helm, Music + TV News


by John W. Barry

Thousands were on hand at the Mountain Jam music festival Saturday night for a stunning tribute to the late musician Levon Helm that embodied his ability to reach across generations and slice through genres of song.

Helm, a Grammy winning member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame from Woodstock, died April 19. The Levon Helm Band performed twice at Mountain Jam, in 2008 and 2010. The eighth edition of the musical extravaganza, which is staged by Radio Woodstock and Gov’t Mule and Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes, started Thursday and ends tonight.

Mountain Jam is held at Hunter Mountain, in the heart of the Catskills. Helm sang, played drums and mandolin for The Band.

The tribute to Helm took place during Gov’t Mule’s second set of music Saturday night and featured members of the Levon Helm Band — Larry Cambpell, Teresa Williams, Jim Weider, Byron Isaacs, Jay Collins and Howard Johnson. Campbell and Wiliams are married and are part-time Ulster County residents. Weider and Collins live in Ulster County full-time. Joining in were horn players, “Blue” Lou Marini, who like Johnson was a member of the “Saturday Night Live” band for years; as well as trombone player Earl McIntyre, who along with Johnson appeared on the legendary Band album, “Rock of Ages.”

Dutchess County resident Justin Guip, chief engineer at Levon Helm Studios, played drums. Gov’t Mule keyboard player Danny Louis, who shared keyboard duties with Levon Helm Band piano player Brian Mitchell, is an Ulster County native. Lukas Nelson, the son of Willie Nelson, also joined in.

Ulster County resident Barbara O’Brien, Helm’s manager, said shortly after the music ended that she experienced a “roller coaster” of emotions during the tribute to Helm.

“You’re so happy, because he would be so happy and yet your heart is being ripped out of your chest because you want him to be here singing,” said O’Brien, who played a critical role in the success of Helm’s Midnight Ramble house concerts in Woodstock. “You’re up and your down.”

O’Brien said she felt Helm’s presence.

“Oh definitely — and he was having a good time,” she said. “I felt he was having a really good time. But I wish he was here.”

The audience at Mountain Jam was treated to rousing, poignant and touching versions of songs made famous by The Band. Many Baby Boomers in the audience likely remembered when these songs were first released, while teenagers in the crowd who responded with equal enthusiasm weren’t even born when they came out.

The musical tribute to Levon Helm, who wrote in his 1993 autobiography, “This Wheel’s On Fire,” that the Catskills reminded him of the Ozark Mountains in his native Arkansas, featured “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” a Civil War-inspired dirge; “Ophelia,” a horn-drive Dixieland romp; “The Shape I’m in,” an upbeat rocker about being down on your luck; “This Wheel’s On Fire,” a cautionary tale whose chord progressions bring with them a sense of urgency; “It Makes No Difference,” an aching ballad that tore at the crowd’s heartstrings; and “The Weight,” which is laden with biblical overtones.

Haynes delivered roaring vocals that were nuanced.

“It was wonderful to be playing these tunes with Warren,'” said Campbell, multi-instrumentalist and music director for the Levon Helm Band, as he left the stage. “They made me really miss Levon. The last time we were here, his smiling face was over there on the side…I’m really grateful to Warren for bringing us up here. It’s cathartic to be able to come back here and play this stuff with him.”

(This originally ran in the Poughkeepsie Journal. It was written by John W. Barry The cover photo is also by John W. Barry)

See our piece on Levon’s Dirt Farmer

See out piece on The Band’s Rock of Ages

Posted by Larry Carta

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