Update on April 16th from Levon’s website :
Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey.
Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration… he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage…
We appreciate all the love and support and concern.
From his daughter Amy, and wife Sandy
My wife and I shared two of the most magical evenings of music of our life at Levon’s house. I got to take my musical nut of a son to see Levon play in Woodstock, VT last summer which truly meant a lot to me. I know many of you reading this were at some of those shows.
Keeping in touch with the things that help us feel alive – music, books, movies, even the theatre, if, mysteriously, you are that way inclined – becomes a battle, and one that many of us lose, as we get older; I don’t think enough of our cultural pundits, people who write about that stuff for a living, fully understand this.
As we left Woodstock, NY on Sunday morning after a transcendent evening at The Ramble this thought, or at least my more muddled non-Nick-Hornby version of it, kept running through my head. We’re all getting older. For some of us it will take awhile to get there – others can see it right there on the horizon. We live about two hours away from Woodstock and I’ve been hearing about The Ramble for years now yet I’ve never managed to commit to going – until now. Thanks then go out to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals for creating a little structure in my life that finally pushed me to make it happen. To those of you who’ve thought about going but have made the same mistake that I have for years, the inability to commit – please fix your mistake now. Go.
We have a two and a half hour drive through the small towns of the Catskills ahead of us and we put on Levon’s “Electric Dirt”. The music, a heady blend of rock, funk, soul and Appalachia, seems perfect for the region especially as we curve around the Pepacton Reservoir on Route 30. No cars, no structures for at least 20 miles. We arrive in Woodstock with the car covered in muddy slush, check in to our streamside hotel and wander around town. Funky shops trading on the hippie history abound as well as artist co-ops, the famous Center for Photography at Woodstock and the retail outlet for Bread Alone whose award winning cookbook I have used for over 15 years.
We head out for a meal at the vegetarian Garden Café on the Woodstock green. Our hearts had risen when we looked at the menu online a few days back but our expectations were lowered when we walked into the small restaurant with mis-matched and nearly broken tables and chairs. Oh for omens! I can happily report that the meal was one of the best veggie dinners I can recall. Subtle flavorings, interesting mixes. We leave at about 5:50 fully sated and gently floating on multiple Malbec’s.
The GPS borrowed from my brother guides us to Plochman lane and I must be four cars back from Van based on our eventual places in line. Arriving you feel as if you’re part of a ritual, one with specific rites and customs. The difference is – the people who run this ritual want to include you. When I answer the question “Your first time here?” at the gate with a simple, “Yes”, I’m greeted with a huge smile and the prophetic phrase, “You’re gonna love it.” My wife jumps out of the car to secure a marginally closer place in line just behind Van who is halfway up the stairs as I park the car.
When the door is open I ask the security guy to point me to the best place to stand closest to the stage. The first few rows are reserved for friends of Levon and his crew so we’re pointed to the balcony behind the band. We end up on the rail about 10 feet from Levon and directly above the horn section. Fantastic, we’ll spend the next five and a half hours here.
Little Sammy Davis & Fred Scribner open the show with a short set of acoustic harmonica blues. Fred scrambles to find harmonica’s in the correct key before each tune. Sammy eventually plays whatever Fred hands him and delivers a sweet soulful set.
The house is packed, I mean packed. When you hear the phrase “people hanging from the rafters” you get some idea of how crowded it was. We hear that they’ve sold more tickets to this show than any other Ramble based on Grace Potter fans calling them up and begging for more seats. You can feel something in the air, expectation? Certainly a sense that you were about to share in something special.
The Nocs simply walk to stage, as is the tradition for the Ramble. No big intros or buildup – just musicians there to do what they do best. Matt’s face is three kinds of happy as he sits down at Levon’s kit and as the first strains of “Joey” come out we settle in for a fantastic 60 minute set of classic GPN. The sound in this building is pristine and the equipment is state of the art. The music seems to live in the room and the Nocs respond with one of the best “musical” sets I’ve seen from them. Grace’s vocal delivery is perfect, especially on “Long Low Road”. From my position I see head nodding approval on hundreds of faces and an explosion of appreciation at the end. A recognition (validated afterwards) that lots of people who’d only heard of GPN or seen them at a recent summertime festival knew that they were seeing “the real deal”. Scott can’t find his harmonica during “Goodbye Kiss” and has to improvise guitar parts over his normal harp solos (I think only a very few people in the crowd had any idea).
The acapella opener to “NBTW” was, as reported elsewhere, a stunner. Grace responded to the quiet in the room by bringing the vocal down even more to a soft low whisper at points. When the band breaks into “Feel Like Making Love” for the encore a look of recognition glides across faces in the crowd and an impromptu sing along to the chorus takes off along with the addition of hundreds of voices to the simple harmonies. Benny stands stage front and lays down a solo that he was born to do – on his birthday even. A perfect end to a stellar set.
The crowd quickly abandons their seats to check to make sure that their cars in the parking lot remain safe before settling back in for the headliner.
Levon and the band stroll in from the sides and take their places behind their respective instruments. Levon’s simple smile lights up the room – completely. If you know this man, his history, his music at all – just watching him sit down at his drum set and flash that grin brings enough emotional heat to make you forget about the logistics of being here, the close to zero weather, everything. They kick into “Shape I’m In” as an opener and I’m gone into the zone. I think of all those legendary rock bands who you would have loved to see in their prime. The Stones, The Beatles, Zeppelin, Dylan, but here we have something else. A guy whose music helped define Americana. Who wrote and vocalized tunes that are still part of the soundtrack of my life and here I am, in his house for god sakes. It’s like a personal invitation to validate the love, effort and money I’ve spent on music for over 30 years and I take it and absorb it. Could you imagine Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney asking you over to their house to hear some music? No? Me neither. Yet here we are in a musical mecca in the hills of Woodstock and I feel like Levon’s doing this for me.
The setlist and delivery is unbelievable. Levon manages vocals on “Tennessee Jed”. We get “Long Black Veil”, “Attics of My Life” and a host of other tunes as the music and vocals mesh as they can only with a band who “feels” it they way everyone on stage does. The horn section is, well, the horn section is off the charts good. At one point they look at us basically hanging over their heads and say “are you getting enough tuba?”
The band has twenty one songs on the setlist and each one adds new layers and highlights. The night closes by knocking it out of the musical park not once but three times. The sad wail of “Makes No Difference” which ends with
Well I love you so much. That’s all I can do.
Just to keep myself from tellin’ you
That I’ve never felt so alone before.
Puts me over the emotional edge for the evening (and right now recalling it). Finally we get “Chest Fever” to blow it out and the Nocs onstage during “The Weight”. Grace takes the first lyric with Matt beside her on stage. I’m fairly convinced that he’s floating about three inches above the carpet – as we all are. Floating.