Words by: Chadbyrne R. Dickens | Images by: Joe Russo
Love For Levon :: 10.03.12 :: Izod Center :: East Rutherford, NJ
Full review below photo gallery!
With age, one attains a myriad of monumental memories steeped in musical importance. Whether it be Live Aid, Farm Aid, a 9/11 tribute , Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions or various other assemblages of talent for a worthy cause, the audience inherently feels a stronger cohesive love when bonding for a benevolent event. On October 3, the Love For Levon show at the Izod Center, a nearly sold-out venue with a capacity of 20,000, was a flawless demonstration fueled by the passion for an iconic musician, Levon Helm. Like the Motown 25 special back in 1983, generations of music lovers are fortunate to soon possess a time capsule of an epic night that shared an intensely passionate amount of love for Levon.
When participating in a special concert like Love for Levon, it’s easy to get caught up in the atmosphere, electricity, and spectacle inherent in a magical night filled with so many star-studded emotional performances, and not reflect on the impetus for such an outpouring of emotion in the first place. Last April, my written remembrance of Mr. Helm included, “With the endless plethora of articles, remembrances, concert showings and demonstrations of love in the days since the loss of Levon Helm, the question one must ask is: why? Still playing music as hard as ever at 71, Mr. Helm was not a fallen icon on the plane of a Garcia; he wasn’t universally known like Michael Jackson; never had a bonafide world renowned hit like Buddy Holly or the mass appeal of any in the “27 club” (Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain, Morrison); never reached chart success with any released single; yet his position in musical history demands a high-level of respect. For those enthusiastic in their love of music and its history and influences, the answer is as clear as Paul Newman’s blue eyes. To many, Levon Helm epitomized the heart of Americana and represented an important faction of American music.”
Despite being diagnosed with throat cancer over 14 years ago, he simply charged-on with more vehemence, performing even more gigs and with deeper passion and effort. Having created a recurring jam session at his barn, the Midnight Ramble would soon become something of legend. Ultimately, Mr. Helm represented what music lovers respect most about the art form of music and its metaphor for life. He was a talented innovator, survivor, writer, singer, drummer, mandolin player, promoter, and actor, one with humble beginnings from a small town in the deep south of Arkansas to create memorable tracks with men from Canada. Without question, Levon’s passing represented more than just a quality musician, but a symbol of a past era, one of the last moguls of the old guard, the idealistic time of the Woodstock Music Festival and folk music, when it was more significant to the common man.
|Garth Hudson by Joe Russo|
In an effort to raised needed funds to keep music flourishing at Mr. Helm’s barn in Woodstock and facilitate support for the late-singer’s descendants, an array of musicians linked to him in various ways attacked the stage with vehemence and fury to pay their respect. Admiration for Mr. Helm flows deep and across many genres and spectrums of music. Only on this night could a fan view country crooning superstar Eric Church sharing the stage with the likes of mega-pop star John Mayer, favorites My Morning Jacket, icons like Joe Walsh of The Eagles and the only member of The Band in attendance, Garth Hudson, who received a poignant and heartwarming standing ovation. The collaborative efforts of the artists, with all egos checked at the door, including Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, left many shivering as each moment segued into the next.
Larry Campbell, guitarist for the Levon Helm Band, fittingly performed the MC duties on this night, introducing each act and unwittingly serving as the stable barometer keeping fans grounded in between the special guest performances. The first half of the monster 3.5 hour show was chock full of slower and more blues oriented songs and performers, like Warren Haynes, Jorma Kaukonen, Mavis Staples, John Prine and Gregg Allman. One of Mr. Helm’s favorite singers, the quirky John Prine, sang the Dylan-penned 1971 Band classic, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” which many younger fans know from The Grateful Dead covering it for years. Introduced by Campbell as, “One of the finest keyboard players today, Bruce Hornsby surprised with a stellar rendition of “Anna Lee” while playing the dulcimer. The extremely talented and versatile, Grace Potter, despite being arguably the most beautiful and talented woman in the room, modestly stated with conviction from behind a piano said, “This is one of the pleasures of my life”, echoing Neil Young who stated the same exact words before performing with The Band at their farewell show, before she thoroughly entranced everyone with an angelic version of “I Shall Be Released.” Ultimately Ms. Potter made a successful choice, yet a very brave one, considering that Dylan, The Band and cohorts sang the definitive version together 36 years ago in San Francisco. Folk troubadour David Bromberg performed “Don’t Do It” as Joan Osborne simultaneously showed off her soulful pretty pipes.
|Grace Potter and Larry Campbell by Joe Russo|
Almost exactly mid-point through the festivities, after the room had been warmed up through eloquent and masterful performances, the tempo and tone of the room changed to satisfy one’s innate need to dance, sing and unabashedly languish in the outpouring of emotion. The contagiously toe-tapping and knee-slapping “Rag Mama Rag” was sung by John Hiatt as Mike Gordon effortlessly bounced beautiful bass lines about. As the winner of multiple Grammy Awards on all 3 of his album releases, one was curious what John Mayer would bring to the table. Prohibited to deliver vocals, due to a serious throat malady that has sidelined him for months and requiring the cancellation of his entire scheduled tour, one still knew he possessed guitar chops that could rival anyone. His guitar take on the 1972 Grateful Dead classic “Tennessee Jed” was certainly a highlight of the night. Not known for often delivering his customary epic solo work on this particular song himself, one can be confident Mr. Garcia would have been impressed with Mr. Mayer’s barn burning blues-driven guitar solo.
|Mike Gordon by Joe Russo|
Speaking of the best guitarists of our generation, Robert Randolph, the pedal-steel master, joined forces with the legendary Eagle’s guitar maestro, Joe Walsh, on a delicious offering of one of Mr. Helm’s more popular songs, “Up on Cripple Creek.” The crowd screamed in unison as the riffs soared in unison above the New Jersey Center and Mr. Walsh shared his unusual vocal style. With the commencement of a full style party type celebration, the crowd consistently stood in awe and amazement after each introduction and as each new hero took the stage. My Morning Jacket took over the stage, sharing two of The Band’s most known works, that when juxtaposed couldn’t have been more different in style. “Ophelia”, known as Mr. Helm’s most popular signature song in the upbeat jazzy tempo, inspired one to sing with delight as a memory of Levon was unconsciously afloat in one’s sphere. “It Makes No Difference”, a slow and methodical ditty followed, with the patented subtle vocals of Jim James. With so many beautiful songs on the night having been written by estranged former band mate, Robbie Robertson, it is only fitting that he be included somehow in the offerings, despite their past differences.
The night closed with huge guests and Levon’s staple classics. Roger Waters entered stage right, quietly placed a red baseball cap on his microphone, as Helm had gifted it to him in 1990. It was another example how this tribute show wasn’t simply an exercise to support charity because star power was required for attention. Rather, every participating artist had a connection with Mr. Helm in some manner, whether knowing him for years, collaborating on an album, at a festival or elsewhere. There was a reason why so many influential and talented musicians eagerly signed up to play their hearts out at the Izod, chomped at the bit to perform with him across the land, or travel to Woodstock for a Midnight Ramble. Bob Dylan summed it up best last Spring, “Mr. Helm was one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation.”
|Photo by Joe Russo|
Similar to the Last Waltz, where a host of accomplished musicians gathered to celebrate the end of The Band, this one-night gathering was reminiscent to that assembled for the We Are the World studio session – this time to pay tribute to the legacy of Levon. The tradition of Mr. Helm and his beloved Rambles continues on, as The Levon Helm Band, renamed The Midnight Ramble Band, has confirmed a Midnight Ramble at the Barn for Oct 27. One can remain confident that the manner to which Scorsese’s documentary on The Band, magically creating musical memories to generations since 1976 through celluloid, will also hold true for the unforgettable night at the Love for Levon show. It is set for a DVD release in 6 months.
“Music is the language of Heaven” – Levon Helm
We hear you, Levon.
The Shape I’m In (Warren Haynes), Long Black Veil (Warren Haynes and Gregg Allman), Trouble In Mind (Jorma Kaukonen and Barry Mitterhoff), This Wheel’s On Fire (Levon Helm Band with Shawn Pelton), Little Birds (Levon Helm Band), Listening To Levon (Marc Cohn), Move Along Train (Mavis Staples), Life Is A Carnival (Allen Toussaint and Jaimoe), When I Paint My Masterpiece (John Prine and Garth Hudson), Anna Lee (Bruce Hornsby), Ain’t Got No Home (Jakob Dylan and Rami Jaffee), Whispering Pines (Lucinda Williams), Rag Mama Rag (Mike Gordon and John Hiatt)
Don’t Do It (David Bromberg and Joan Osborne), I Shall Be Released (Grace Potter, Don Was and Matt Burr), Tears Of Rage (Ray LaMontagne and John Mayer), Rockin’ Chair (Dierks Bentley), Genetic Method (Garth Hudson) , Chest Fever (Dierks Bentley), A Train Robbery (Eric Church), Get Up Jake (Eric Church), Tennessee Jed (John Mayer and Levon Helm Band), Up On Cripple Creek (Joe Walsh and Robert Randolph), Ophelia (My Morning Jacket and Levon Helm Band), It Makes No Difference (My Morning Jacket), The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Roger Waters and My Morning Jacket), Wide River To Cross (Roger Waters and Amy Helm), The Weight (Everyone)
JamBase | Love for Levon
Go See Live Music!