Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rambling for Levon Helm

By David Luhrssen
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  The stage was crowded last October when acclaimed musicians by the dozen crowded the rostrum at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The concert honored The Band's drummer, Levon Helm, who had died recently from cancer, and raised money to sustain Helm's Woodstock, New York music series, the Midnight Rambles.

Love for Levon (out in an elaborate DVD-CD set, among other configurations) documents a long evening of music directed by Don Was and Larry Campbell. The Band weren't the biggest hit makers during their run in the late '60s and early '70s, but their music and the ideas it conjured left deep impressions. No one called it Americana then, but their solidly rooted songs were a counterweight to the airy excesses of the era. The Band was like a rock group from the Civil War, if such a thing can be imagined.

Coming out for the concert were such generational peers as Gregg Allman and John Prine, younger performers honoring the touchstone such as John Mayer and My Morning Jacket, artists from related deep roots genres including New Orleans' Allen Toussaint and the gospel music's Mavis Staples, and surprise appearances from the likes of Pink Floyd's Roger Waters. The Band's repertoire constitutes the set list, with "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down," "Ophelia," "The Shape I'm In" and much more.

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