Rick Danko once said: "It's weird for me to look at people at a concert, and they're not dancing." Well Ricky would have been pleased last night. Love For Levon was that once-in-a-lifetime experience that people seek out their entire lives. Those who performed and attended were there because Levon made a tremendous impact on their lives, and the love was felt all around.
Early on in the concert, Larry Campbell (a close friend of the Helm family, and a member of Levons band for many years) asked the crowd how many had been to a Midnight Ramble, receiving uproarious applause and cheers from the audience. One of the last things Levon told them, he said, was to keep it goin. The whole night was centered around this wish.
There's really nothing that can be compared to the Love For Levon concert. Levon Helm inspired so many people, and wanted nothing more than to keep the music and love alive inside of his barn. The musicians who gathered all turned up to honor the man who was a friend and inspiration to all. Even in the audience, there was an overwhelming sense of love and community that was felt all over. I was seated next to a couple who made the impulse decision to fly up from San Antonio the day before the concert, for the sole purpose of attending. This is just one of many examples of the love people felt for this man.
The first song of the night was "The Shape I'm In," sung by Warren Haynes. Throughout most of the night, The Midnight Ramble Band acted as the house band for all of the special guests. They took the stage by storm, though, on their own with "This Wheel's On Fire." Marc Cohn delivered a touching tribute with his original "Listening To Levon," with lyrics including, "I was lost/I was gone/listening to Levon."
One of the many great things about the night was that there were appearances not only from those influenced by Levon, but by those who influenced Levon, as well, such as Mavis Staples and Allen Toussaint, who contributed on "Move Along Train" and "Life Is A Carnival," respectively.
After an introduction by Campbell hailing him as one of the coolest cats around, Jakob Dylan took the stage to deliver "Ain't Got No Home," along with his Wallflowers bandmate Rami Jaffee. (Jaffee contributed on many other tracks, as well).
Other highlights included "Rag Mama Rag," with contributions from Mike Gordon and John Hiatt; Grace Potters wonderful rendition of "I Shall Be Released;" Ray LaMontange and John Mayers "Tears of Rage." Two of the biggest moments of the night were Joe Walsh and Robert Randolph's hard-rocking performance of "Up On Cripple Creek," and Roger Waters collaboration with My Morning Jacket on "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
Levon's fellow The Band member Garth Hudson also made an appearance, with the spotlight on him alone as he played the legendary introduction to "Chest Fever."
Even though the night was already jam packed with performances, many performers took a moment to say a few words about Levon. Jakob Dylan gave a tip of his hat and a "God bless you, Levon" before leaving the stage. Lucinda Williams offered similar sentiments after her wonderful vocals on "Whispering Pines", saying "God bless you Levon; his spirit lives on." Grace Potter said that the night was "one of the greatest pleasures of my life right now." Dierks Bentley commented that like many of us, he was told that he marched to the beat of a different drummer, to which his reply was "I did, it was Levon Helm."
The night was closed out with everyone on stage singing "The Weight." The song started off with the soft voices of Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, and Levon's own daughter Amy Helm singing the first verse. The song then picked up, and verses transitioned between the rest of the amazing ensemble.
More than once, the voices of the crowd blended together and were louder than the amplifiers made the singers on the stage. At one point, my new friend Ross turned to me and said "It's great, right? It's a great show." Indeed, it was.