Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Our Midnight Ramble

Golden Cypress Trees, 2006, Oil on Panel, 16x12

Get comfortable, get a drink or a cup of coffee, and sit back, this is a long post!

So last Saturday, Doug and I had planned to leave early in the day, drop off a painting at the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson and then go on and spend the day in Woodstock before going to the concert at around 7pm. However, Doug got home late on Friday from a business trip and so we left in the afternoon, stopped at the mall so I could buy a pair of black converse sneakers, skipped Hudson and got to Woodstock around 5:30. We walked around on Tinker Street and Mill Hill Road and then stopped at a small Mexican restaurant and had a nice (and quick) dinner. We followed the map that we were given to Levon Helm's house which isn't very far from the Woodstock School of Art and the "downtown" area. It was also on a road where I could totally see myself living someday, as there were nice houses surrounded by a lot of land, secluded yet still a real neighborhood. Anyway, at the end of a long driveway there was a lady at a table and we stopped to check in and buy a comemmorative neck thingy (which said Levon Helm Band on it) for us to hang our passes on, which we were instructed to wear at all times while at the concert. Everyone who attends is asked to bring a plate of food to share for a community food table and after way too much deliberation and stress I had decided on my fabulous chocolate chip cookies. After parking in a field, we grabbed the cookies and went in to look for our friend Jeff (and his son), who had sold us the tickets, the ones that Randy and Jenny were going to use, but passed along to us. We stood around chatting for a bit and watched my cookies disappear in about 5 minutes (phew, good choice!), and then decided to go in and get a seat. The concert location is basically Levon Helm's living room. The building is a huge open, barn type structure, built in the mid seventies, with a lot of stone and solid wood beams. The stage area was against a stone wall with an open area above where people were hanging out and watching and where the recording studio was located. There were about fifty chairs in front of the stage area (all on the same level-the stage was not a raised area) and then there were a series of balconies which were filled with more folding chairs. We went in early enough and managed to get seats in the third row, on the floor, meaning we were, oh, about ten feet from the performers. Do I have to say how awesome that was?! We sat and chatted a bit with Jeff and with a guy sitting in front of us about the concerts we had been to and then it was time for the opening performance, which was the Alexis P. Suter Band from Brooklyn, New York.

Alexis, the lead singer is a big, beautiful African-American woman with a voice that made me tremble. She was bluesy, loud and strong and I can still hear her voice in my head. Her band was pretty colorful as well, there was a very animated drummer who made the most interesting facial contortions while he played, two brothers, Jimmy and Peter Bennett, who played lead and bass guitars, and the bass player reminded me a bit of my dear departed Rick Danko (who I always am reminded of when I am in Woodstock), and two back up singers, one a fellow (didn't catch his name), dressed entirely in red, who looked like a very short Marvin Gaye and a slinky yet perky blond woman. Vicki Bell. They both did the classic, groovy, back up singer dance and they also had really great voices. The whole group seemed really tight and I totally enjoyed watching and listening to them perform. We bought their CD, Shuga Fix, which doesn't compare to their live performance but as my memory of that fades, the CD will come in very handy.

The next performer was David "Fathead" Newman. Now I have to admit here that I am not particularly a jazz fan, and while I enjoyed this group I found myself feeling a bit bored and stifled a yawn a few times. However, despite having no knowledge of jazz, I certainly could tell that Mr. Newman and his group were incredible, soulful and passionate musicians. After googling him, I found that Fathead Newman has quite a following and I was pretty impressed to find out that he had played with Ray Charles for 12 years.

I have to add a few words here about the keyboard/piano player here, Bruce Katz. Doug and I saw him come in and spent quite a few minutes discussing whether he was one of the musicians or not. Well was he ever! He played all night, with each group and he was just incredible. He has his own group as well and performs in venues all over the world.

Also, in between each performance we were entertained quite well by Rob Bartlet, from the Imus show. He was really funny, told a lot of great jokes and stories and ya gotta love someone whose first words, in this politically correct, just say no world, to the audience are "Stay away from the brown acid tonight!"

The next and last group was, obviously the Levon Helm Band. First his band members took the stage, Bruce Katz, two horn players, who I barely saw because there was a wood support beam between us, lead guitar Jimmy Vivino, and the drummers from the previous bands. Then, surrounded by several big bodyguard types, Levon Helm walked onto the stage and hopped up onto a stool, strapped on an electric mandolin and launched into a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City" which was included on the Band's 1993 "comeback" album, Jericho. Now I must say here that I was kind of in shock during this song. Of course I knew that Mr. Helm was older now, (he is 65 or so) and that he would surely look different than he did in the Last Waltz or in the images of him that I have seen over the years, but still I wasn't prepared for how much he has aged. It was hard to reconcile the thin, smiling, bearded and somewhat disheveled man from the sixties and seventies with the clean cut, white haired, spry but slightly hunched, grandfatherly looking performer in front of me. I finally got over the visual, and then realized that although he was singing, it wasn't the same sharp, twangy, mournful voice of his youth. Again, I know that voices change over time, but really, he sounded like a different person. The sharpness and edge that he had had was gone. (When I got home I read over his bio again and found out that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer about ten years and that he wasn't able to sing for quite a while). But after noticing that he had the same old big smile on his face and that he exuded an amazing amount of energy and enthusiasm for the music, I made a few mental adjustments and proceeded to thoroughly enjoy the rest of the show. He sang "Evangeline", which was performed with Emmylou Harris on The Last Waltz and was one of my favorites. All throughout this set, the other musicians and singers came and went, performing along on various songs. Their special guest for the evening was blues artist, Little Sammy Davis, whom I had never really heard of, but he was a really wonderful musician (he plays a mean harmonica) as well. After playing the mandolin for a few songs, Mr. Helm moved over to the drums and proceeded to play and sing, just like the old days. The whole room exploded when they launched into "Ophelia", which was about the only Band song that they played. The rest was a variety of old, hootenanny and country bluesy kind of songs and music and the encore was an incredible and energetic cover of "Take Me to the River."

After the show ended, Levon Helm was whisked away by his security guys and we hung around a bit and talked to Alexis Suter and the short Marvin Gaye fellow. Most of the performers were milling around and it was obvious that the whole group was really tight with each other as well as with many members of the audience. It was a really exciting and energetic environment and gave me further inspiration in regards to my form of art, which is one of the things I love about seeing live music.

Next up: Ray LaMontagne in Saratoga on August 17 and we just got our tickets for a concert by Bob Dylan, who will be performing again in Cooperstown on September 2. We are getting a sitter this time (last time he played there we had the kids with us, what a buzzkill!) and plan to stake out our spots in the very front row.

PS. If you're interested, all of the performers that I mentioned have links on this page and you can read more about them.


Omega said...

Do you find that you retain a more vivid memory of a concert if you have written a blog about it?

Tracy said...

Ask me in a few months! These are the first concerts that I have written about and so far it does seem to help me to recall the event better, but we'll see about the long term. I have enjoyed describing them either way.