priligy fda approval 2012

Ramble On

by Neal Ward on February 14, 2011

in Hayes Carll,Levon Helm,Performances

“You folks sure picked a good night to be here….” said Larry Campbell behind his sunglasses as he donned his heavily worn, heavily modified ‘68 “Frankenstein” Strat and prepared to get things under way in Levon Helm’s barn. The band was doing final adjustments on their instruments. Getting ready to take off on a musical ride that would end up outlasting the evening and actually crossing into the early hours of the next day. This was the moment my wife Monique and I had driven the three and one half hours across Massachusetts and into the Catskills of New York to be a part of. Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble.

The experience had actually begun a few hours earlier. I had read that to get a close seat you had to be at the driveway “gate” right at 6pm. After parking your car you can get in line at the base of the stairs to the 2’nd floor of the barn where the studio / performance space is. We were about 16th in line. Waiting in the cold February evening, talking to folks both ahead and behind us in line. “Ever been to a Ramble before?” “This is our third. You say you folks from Boston?” “Binghampton New York?” “How long was the drive?” On the right of the stairs in the door to the merchandise room where there are pot luck dishes for our enjoyment and heat for our greater enjoyment. But leaving the line means you might lose your spot. We remain in line. There are now 20 or 30 people behind us and we decide the cold is bearable for another half hour.

Looking up I notice a bearded fellow in a winter cap coming toward us from around the stairs. “Hey Hayes, Really looking forward to seeing yer set tonight!” Hayes Carll, The opening act, and the main reason I chose this night to attend looks me in the eye and shuffles closer. His hands shoved deeply in the pockets of his flannel type shirt/jacket. “Thanks, …man it’s cold out here” , “yeah …it’s been worse though. Hey, do you ever manage to get up to New England? I’ll shoot you a lead thru your site on a place that would be perfect for you to play in New Hampshire” (Tupelo Music Hall). “Cool! We’re doing some place in Boston this spring—I can’t remember what it’s called” More small talk ensues and eventually Hayes politely dismisses himself and heads to his car for some warmer clothes–his original intention for venturing out in the first place. The head staff/security employee yells, “It’s cold! Let ‘em in!!” The doors open twenty minutes early at 6:40 or so. We’re in.

We casually choose two seats in the second row right in front of one of the mic stands. We have a clear view of all of the stage except for the seat at the piano, obstructed by the barn’s wooden support pole. A slight lean to the left or right remedies this situation whenever needed. We stand. I explore the balconies and recording studio parts of the barn. We (I) feast on popcorn from the popcorn machine to the right of the fireplace in the rear. An hour later at 8pm sharp, Hayes Carll and his band take the stage. Our seats are perfect.

If you have never heard Hayes Carll you really must check out his site ( I bought the album “Trouble In Mind” after hearing an interview on NPR. It has become one of my top 5 favorite albums of all time —not an easy feat. One of the few albums I can just let repeat over and over again in my truck CD player. Hayes and the band (lead guitar, bass, and drums) take the stage and play a slowed-down, mournful version of “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” off of “Trouble In Mind”. The sound in the barn is stunning. After all these shows they really have the sound totally dialed in. The band continued with songs from their new album “KMAG YOYO”. Hayes is hilariously humble. Recounting many humorous situations and working with whatever people in the crowd yell out as a lead into other stories and song intros. This was his new bass player’s 4th show with Hayes (including a Tonight Show appearance, a small show somewhere, and opening for Levon the previous night in New Jersey). “Sorry,” Hayes said looking back over his shoulder, “ I guess its all downhill from here.”

I see that Hayes often uses a capo on the 2nd fret of his guitar, changing the chord shapes and tonal relationships of the chords he plays (He loves to play songs in A). Ahh, that’s what he’s doing. All his A chords are played like G chords turning the songs into classic folk and country chord shapes. I make a mental note for my own playing. The set ends 45 minutes later. Far to short for me, but respectfully keeping to the evening’s schedule. I have to get tickets to Hayes’ Boston show (a five minute break in the writing of this was taken at this point to procure said tickets).

Thirty minutes later Levon’s band takes the stage. Five horns, two guitars, upright bass, vocals by Amy Helm and Teresa Williams, piano and B3 organ, and of course, Levon Helm on drums. “You folks sure picked a good night to be here ……I’d like to introduce to you our guest on keyboards tonight….Donald Fagan!” Donald Fagan, the voice of Steely Dan will hold down piano duties, tag-teaming with Levon’s regular keyboardist Brian Mitchell. When Mitchell needs the piano, Fagan mans the B3 and vice versa.

The show begins with “The Shape I’m In” and a wall of sound greets us. Every instrument is clear and the volume is perfect. Larry Campbell schools us with his spare and tasty style of delivering chords and licks. Jim Weider slices through with incredible telecaster and acoustic guitar solos. When there is such a full sound on stage you have to carefully choose what lines you play and both guitarists make all the right choices. The level of musicianship is stunning. The songs are incredibly tight and yet at the same time maintain a complete sense of looseness and freedom. You realize that at any minute any player can take off and the rest of the band will fall right in and adjust accordingly. Stunning horn solos continuously one-up each other as the horn section seems to compete and see who can pull off the most outlandish solo and still land intact. Blazing tenor sax and the highest, fastest tuba/sousaphone solo I have ever seen are etched in my mind.

Levon’s drumming was top notch. His classic, loping style of rhythm propelled the band forward and wove in and out of the spaces skillfully left by this top-notch band. Levon’s voice is rough after his bought with throat cancer several years ago. He can still hit the notes but Larry Campbell and Levon’s daughter Amy were always vigilant and quick to respectfully help out whenever Levon’s voice started to sound a bit hoarse or strained. They always managed to support him without overpowering his voice. Amy appeared to be encouraging Levon to take it a bit easier, but caught up in the energy of the night, Levon seemed to want to forge ahead, belting out vocals on “Ophelia”, “WS Walcott Medicine Show”, and “The Weight” just to name a few.

Forty minutes or so into the show Jimmy Vivino was introduced (carrying a “National” archtop guitar) and played rippin’ slide guitar on “He’s God.” He remained on stage contributing guitar and vocals on several songs. Smoldering blues solos were tossed back and forth on “Deep Elem Blues.” Donald Fagan led the band on Steely Dan’s “Black Friday” and the Greatful Dead’s “Shakedown Street”. The horn section broke from their stage positions and led a New Orleans Mardi Gras style street parade around the back of the room. The dynamic of the night was skillfully executed. Slow beautiful numbers with AMAZING vocals were interspersed with upbeat, high energy songs with such skill and pacing that time seemed to stand still as the night stretched into the midnight hour.

Glen Hansard the Irish singer/songwriter/guitarist from “The Swell Season” and the film “Once” was introduced and was clearly supposed to do a pre-arranged song but instead told everyone how he had just read “This Wheel’s On Fire” by Levon and had just written a new song inspired by it. He was bursting at the seams with excitement as he tried to clue in the band to the chords. “It starts on A!, goes to A flat, then A or E!, then this descending thing! Oh Larry can you do this little riff thing?!” “We’ll do best if we don’t know it” , yelled the keyboard player Brian Mitchell. Glen Hansard laughed (he reminded me of the hobbits Pippin and Merry from the Lord o’ the Rings movies) …and off he went into a killer tune. The band of coarse ripped into it like they had played it for years. Solos were tossed back and forth, the song reached a fever pitch and Hansard looked like he would bubble over with joy. The song ended on a tightly hit chord and from the keyboard section was heard, “see…I told you so!”

The crowd was enthusiastic and were all well aware of what we were witnessing. It is clear that those who made this pilgrimage knew what they were coming to see. Many standing ovations followed the most exceptionally delivered songs. Everyone was extremely appreciative of Levon and the outpouring of love and support was wonderful to feel. The fellow next to me kept tapping me and saying, “I’ve been here three times and I’ve never seen one like this!”

Jimmy Vivino came back out, grabbed Campbell’s Les Paul and delivered a stunning “King Harvest” and “Tears Of Rage” continuing with the band through “When I Go Away” to the final number “The Weight”. Everyone was brought up on stage for the closer. Hayes Carll took the first verse, Glen Hansard the second, a Donald Fagan piano solo followed, Levon took the “Miss Moses” verse, Brian Mitchell delivered the “Crazy Chester” verse, and Amy and Teresa wrapped up the final verse. Everybody sang the iconic choruses with Glen Hansard bobbing forth from mic to mic with a devilish “I can’t believe I’m here” grin on his face. The crowd roared. Levon stood and basked in the wave of appreciation and walked around the stage calling attention to each and every musician individually. Quite a long process considering that at this time there were 19 of the night’s musicians on the crowded stage. The lights came on at 12:30 and we all slowly shuffled out the door and down the stairs grinning and marveling in what we had just experienced.

As I left Groton, Ma. at the start of this journey my daughter Sam called out, “have fun crossing this off of your bucket list!” I don’t have what I would call a “bucket list” but I did realize that these magical events do have limited run left in them and I wanted to be sure to experience one. While Levon appeared healthy he is obviously showing signs of age and his physical challenges of the past several years. If you have ever in the back of your mind considered attending one of these Midnight Rambles I would have to encourage you to attend one sooner rather than putting it off until later. The musicianship on that stage is absolutely incredible. At every turn was a jaw-dropping moment. The crowd and every musician was clear and present in showing their love and respect for Levon. The regular band and all the guest musicians knew that they were in a special place that evening and showed it in their playing and in the constant smiles and grins on their faces. Having been a guest to this magic once now, I want to feel like this again. It is obvious that Levon absolutely loves doing these shows. I must go back.

(The band photos above were from the previous night’s show in New Jersey, Hayes Carll photo from

Next post: