Al Kooper, Jimmy Vivino Celebrate Mike Bloomfield at Levon Helm’s, October 4
Since Levon Helm began hosting his Midnight Rambles, in his home studio — “The Barn” — in Woodstock, I’ve been going. Nights of legend happened every Saturday there was music there: Those magical, small, early shows with Alexis P. Suter and Olabelle, Levon’s daughter Amy Helm’s band. Dr. Ralph Stanley singing “Rank Strangers,” and Mavis Staples, standing next to her goddaughter Amy during “The Weight,” turned the Barn into a church, a revival celebration. Kinky Friedman chewing on a cigar, laughing with an old friend. Larry Campbell’s lovely mother Maggie. Phil Lesh playing with Levon on Jill Lesh’s birthday, accompanied by the Lesh’s sons Grahame and Brian, as Jill looked on with indescribable happiness. And these were the special guests. Levon’s band, led by artist and gentleman Larry Campbell, always amazed. The night Howard Johnson lifted the roof with just his slim tin whistle on “Atlantic City” — from behind his cherry-red drums, Levon joked, “Howard can go in a hardware store and play anything in there.” The night Levon announced “my baby girl done had a baby boy,” and the audience celebrated along with proud parents — and band members — Amy Helm and Jay Collins. The night the horn section — Johnson, Collins, Clark Gayton, Erik Lawrence, Steven Bernstein — paraded through a packed house, while Brian Mitchell sang — and devastated his keyboards — on the best “(Big Bass Drum) All on a Mardi Gras Day” you could ever hear. And you never knew when Woodstock neighbors who were not old friends but family — Happy Traum and John Sebastian — might just emerge from shadows behind Mitchell and join in.
Time passes. Helm died, after a long, valiant — and for many years gloriously triumphant — battle with cancer, in April 2012. He is buried in Woodstock, on a hilltop overlooking the town and catty-cornered from the grave of Rick Danko. At 160 Plochmann Lane, though, the music goes on. Levon asked his band, his family, to “keep it goin,'” and yes indeed, they are doing just that. The Midnight Rambles continue, with old friends like Lesh and Jackie Greene, Maria Muldaur and Jackson Browne playing on Saturday nights.
On October 4th, there’s a Ramble you must not miss. Al Kooper and Jimmy Vivino, now Conan O’Brien’s bandleader, but resident for many years before at the Barn, will be there. The Rekooperators and The Barnburners will entertain you almightily –and the evening is a tribute to Mike Bloomfield.
The gates (well, there are no gates, it’s Helm’s dirt-road driveway — but please respect the time) open at 5:30. Continue the Ramble tradition of bringing food for the potluck-style tables in the ground floor entrance room. In the past, people have brought everything from chips and salsa to homemade venison paté, custom-made cupcakes with Levon’s portrait on them, enough chopped heirloom tomato salad for 50 people, and enough wine to share with just about everyone. You can tailgate at your car, or picnic down by the pond, known to some as Lake Levon. Helm’s dogs, Muddy and Lucy, may be around to welcome you (in the pond, Lucy likes to fetch rocks, not sticks, but don’t throw too many for her). From 6:30 to 7:30, there will be a screening of Sweet Blues: A Film About Mike Bloomfield. Show starts at 8, and goes, of course, until midnight — though on this particular night, I’d expect it might end a little later.
I’ll be bringing theme food. The blues are hard to devise a drink for (really, straight Curaçao?), but blueberry pie is a delight this time of year, with all the plentiful berries. See you there — if you move soon for tickets. All the seats are sold out, and it’s standing room only available at Levon Helm Studios.
photo of Al Kooper and Jimmy Vivino via and courtesy of levonhelm.com