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Midnight Ramble Review


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Submitted by : Prost

Well, what can I say, this past weekend was one of the greatest experiences in my life. We arrived in Woodstock, NY on Friday around 2 in the afternoon. The scenery in the Catskills is awesome. We got into town and immediately went on the hunt for Big Pink. After going down some back roads we found Stoll Rd. and then Parnassus Lane where Big Pink lies. It was a pretty heavily wooded area with not much vision around through the trees so our eyes were peeled in order to get a first glimpse of the house. The anticipation was growing and growing as Richard Maunel belts out the lyrics to 'Tears of Rage' on the stereo. And then the trees opened up and there it was. There was an amazing view of the Catskill Mountains and this tiny pink house. It was unreal, I was speechless just to be there.

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I didn't want to leave and we had just arrived. After hanging out at Big Pink we headed back into town to check out some of the shops and get something to eat. the town is so small and quaint. It was great to be there, knowing that we had another whole day here and then head on over to Levon's house at night!

Some of the other sights to see was the Woodstock Playhouse where The Band recorded 'Stage Fright'

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After a while we got directions from the locals to an amazing campground in the neighbouring town of Bearsville, where as you may or may not know, houses the Bearsville Studios...where many other great albums were recorded. The campground was impeccable and cheap! It only cost us $36 for two nights. Split between five people thats nothing! We relaxed and got ready for the next day ahead of us.

On Saturday we went into town to the Woodstock Cemetary to go and pay our respects to the one and only Rick Danko. His gravesite originally only had a marker with no headstone. And we met this caretaker of the cemetary who informed us that a fan, and not Rick's wife, had purchaised a stone for Rick. It was surreal to be there, to say the least.

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After hanging out in town for the day we decided to go to a local grocery store and grab some stuff for a picnic in the park. That was great, and before we knew it, it was time. Time to go to Levon's house. His house is so close to town it's crazy. We pulled into his driveway and up to a booth where we had to check in and were greated by 'Helmland Security'. They don't give tickets, they just have your name on a list and they give you a sticker to put on your shirt. After that you can go where you please (except inside Levon's personal space of course.) His home/studio is unbelievable, the land that he has is huge and remote. He has his own beautiful lake and this enormous barn for a house that is all made with wood post and beam and no metal fasteners. Just wood pegs and tenon's to hold everything. The acoustics were going to be amazing.

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Upstairs was the studio and you were free to roam around with drinks in cups provided. You truely are a guest at Levon Helm's house. Unfortunately they do not allow pictures inside the studio but I don't even need photos to remember what I saw and experienced. There was a gallery downstairs with some funny photos of friends and fellow musicians. I was able to take some photos in the gallery an this was a hilarious one of 'Cheif' Garth Hudson.

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There were so many little things that made it so intimate. They had Levon Helm Studios popcorn bags and a pot-luck for the guests. It is a first come fist served basis for seating. We were early so we managed to get seats in the second row of chairs dead center. I was about 5 feet from the drum kit sitting in front of me. I was staring and the empty stool knowing who would be sitting on it later that evening.

The show began with the Alexis P. Suter Band who were increadible and sounded amazing!! They performed a nice version of 'Come Together' and really had a lot of energy to kick off the evening.

Next up was Ollabelle, featuring Levon's daughter Amy Helm. They were fantasic as well with great harmonies and two amazing covers of the Grateful Dead's 'Candyman' and 'All La Glory' by The Band to close the set. Next up, Levon!

We sat in our seats as the band set up to play. We noticed that one of Levon's guitar players was oddly familiar looking. It was Jimmy Vivino, the lead musical director and guitarist for the Max Weinberg 7 on Conan O'Brian. The bass player was also a member of the 'MW7'. The other guitarist was Larry Campbell who was a member of Bob Dylan's "Never Ending Tour" band from 1997-2004. They had two horn players and a piano player, as well as backup vocal singers which included Amy Helm. But they weren't just singers as they often traded instruments from fiddle to mandolin to acoustic guitar. There was a array of sounds thas was about to come our way. Then Levon showed up....everyone rose to there feet and applauded the legend. He sat down at the kit and with a big grin on his face welcomed everyone to Woodstock and thanked us for coming.

Levon then took the sticks and counted in the first number. The song was an old country/bluegrass song that I was not familiar with but once Levon sang into that microphone I was beside myself as to what I was hearing. LEVON SINGING AGAIN! He sounded as if nothing had happened from the throat cancer. After the first song everyone in the place erupted. There was maybe 60 people in the whole studio!! Just when I thought it couldn't get any better he started to play "(I Don't Want To) Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes". Hearing him sing that was unbelievable, I thought that was going to be it for number of Band tunes that he would play. I was thinking he would maybe be play one or two more Band tunes later in the set if we were lucky, but after Rock and roll Shoes he played 'Ophelia'!!! I was blown away! He continued with his other traditional rockabilly shuffles that made him so famous.

After a few songs behind the kit he moved out front on a stool and grabbed his mandolin. he performed an amazing version of Springsteen's 'Atlantic City' with his daugther Amy singing backup harmonies. But, after that, Larry Campbell put down his guitar and picked up the fiddle. We were excited to here what was next. To our surprise...Larry started the intro to 'Rag Mama Rag'. That's right, Levon singing and playing mandolin on Rag Mama Rag five feet in front of me.

The show went on with other members of the band taking over the vocals. Jimmy Vivino did an amazing rendition of 'Tears of Rage' and Levon just played the backbeat with his eyes closed, probably thinking of Richard. Vivino picked it up when they played 'I Ain't Got No Home' by Woody Guthrie.

After a few other songs Larry Campbell stepped up to the front and strummed the first couple of chords to 'Chest Fever' and played the studio version on guitar, instead of organ. And he played it to a tee, note for note...it was incredible!! And Levon sang it!

They played for over two hours straight and the last song of the set was 'Down In The Flood' sung by Jimmy Vivino directly into 'W.S. Walcott Medicine Show' where Levon belted out the lyrics!! After that Levon called the entire band and guests on stage to sing the last number of the evening....'The Weight' with the one and only 'Miss Anna Lee" in attendance. She was sitting right in front of me!

What a night! What a trip! I recommend this experience to anybody. It truely was a privilage to go to Levon's home studios and watch him do what he does best!

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