Levon Helm’s Ramble On The Road! at the Ryman

Levon Helm’s Ramble On The Road!
The Levon Helm Band and Ollabelle
with special guests Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, Buddy Miller, John Hiatt, Fred Carter Jr., Sheryl Crow, Ricky Skaggs and Lee Roy Parnell.
Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN July 18, 2007

I was raised on a diet of classics – Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and Little Feat. Mom loved the Beatles, but didn’t like the Stones (she had no Sympathy for the Devil), though we owned both groups’ entire early record collections. I was taught to revere these musical figures in the same way that many children honored George Washington, Winston Churchill, or Ben Franklin. They were the architects of music as I knew it.

Standing right in the middle of all this glorious historical noise was The Band. Instigators of constant Annie versus Fanny debates and giggles, The Band’s albums were likely the first I actually purchased on my own rather than surreptitiously removing from my mother’s CD collection. (I had already claimed all of her records long ago).

This all serves as a preface to understanding the out-of-body glory that I experienced when Levon Helm (drummer, mandolinist, and singer for The Band and roots music aficionado) took the stage of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on Wednesday, July 18th for his “Ramble on the Road,” put on by the Americana Music Association.

Levon, along with his incredibly talented band, followed a rollicking opening performance by Ollabelle, a group that includes his daughter, Amy who is no slouch in the vocals. Levon and his band jumped into “Mail Train,” immediately captivating the audience of young and old. Levon and friends played my favorite Band tune, “Ophelia,” early on, filling the Ryman with electricity. The blues tunes that filled up most of the set were uniquely suited to Levon’s older, life-worn and sometime illness-plagued voice, giving him a genuine, salt-of-the-earth, seen-it-all, quality which was absolutely on target.

Sam Bush came out on stage to play mandolin and sing on “Sitting on Top of the World,” and Little Sammy Davis joined in for “Scratch My Back.” Both Sam and Sammy sat side stage when they weren’t up front performing themselves, visibly enjoying the experience. Buddy Miller played his song “Wide River,” and was joined by Emmylou Harris for “Rough and Rocky” and (oh heavens!) “Evangeline,” with Levon on the mandolin. Helm and the gang followed these up with “Rag Mama Rag,” with Levon eventually moving back over to the drums for “The Shape I’m In,” “Chest Fever,” and “Rock and Roll Shoes.” Lee Roy Parnell (another side-stage viewer) came out to play on “The Weight,” an experience that was only topped by the final song, “I Shall Be Released,” during which the previous guests along with audience members Sheryl Crow, Ricky Skaggs, and John Hiatt joined in.

I wouldn’t have missed this concert for anything, and I feel pretty confident that those on stage were of the same mind. At one point, Levon leaned over to the microphone and said “Thank you for being here with me on this best night of life.” He looked to be having a blast the entire time, never showing signs of wearing out despite the full energy thrown into each song. He had a grin throughout the entire performance like a kid who has just been told he can have whatever he wants at the candy store. I shared the same grin.

by Katy Leonard

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