Legendary Musicians Show Their Love For Levon Helm in New Jersey

Love For Levon
October 3, 2012
Izod Center, NJ

Last night, where most of the world was watching the Presidential Debates or the last night of the Major League Baseball Season, a large group of legendary musicians celebrated the life and music of their friend, the late, great Levon Helm.  With a fairly simple stage setup, filled to the brim with drums, guitars, fiddles, saxophones, trumpets, and more, the show kicked off with a Q104.3 radio announcer, Ken Dashow, speaking about his first encounter with Levon.  The first two songs belonged to members of the Allman Brothers Band, first Warren Hayes and then along with Gregg Allman. 

The first half of the show was dominated by the Midnight Ramble Band, who would play weekly shows for fans with Levon at his home in Woodstock, New York.  It was very enjoyable to see each of the different artists come out and share short stories about Levon and sing one of his many songs.  Things kicked into high gear when Jakob Dylan, son of Bob Dylan and the lead singer of the Wallflowers sang a rocking cover of “Ain’t Got No Home”.  John Hiatt and Mike Gordon sang the famous “Rag Mama Rag” and the show took a short intermission.

The second half of the show was full of big names and great songs.  Grace Potter sang a soulful rendition of “I Shall Be Released” as she sat at a piano.  It was refreshing to see her step outside of her hard rock ways with her band the Nocturnals.  John Mayer came out for one of his two songs after that with Ray LaMontagne for “Tears of Rage”.  John stuck to what he does best, playing an amazing electric guitar.  He did not sign at all, but wow’d the crowd with his intrumental skills.

Next up was a real highlight to me as a die hard country music fan.  Dierks Bentley and Eric Church took over the next twenty minutes with amazing tributes to Levon.  Dierks sang two famous The Band songs and started off with the melodious “Rocking Chair”.  He performed it in true Dierks fashion with a clear profound country-folk sound that certainly would have made Levon proud. 

Surprisingly to me, he followed it up with the famous song “Chest Fever” and brought out legendary band mates of Levon’s, Jon Randall, Jessi Alexander, and the amazing Garth Hudson.  The cover became a jam out, just as the original The Band version and Dierks again nailed the vocals.  The crowd was on their feet during the entire song and really seemed to show their respect for Dierks’ performance.

Up next was country music’s newest superstar, Eric Church.  Eric came out with his usual aviator sunglasses, but his performance was very scaled down in comparison to his live shows.  He was very focused on giving an intimate performance as he sang two lesser known Levon Helm songs, “A Train Robbery” and “Get Up Jake”.  Both songs are very lyrics driven as they build a story as it goes along. 

Eric commented between songs that “In a world where there is a lot of bought fame, Levon was always about the music. I learned to march to a different drummer from Helm.”  And then he let loose Eric Church-style on “Get Up Jake” as he pounded his chest a few times and displayed his normal live actions.  The crowd gave him an overwhelming standing ovation when he finished that lasted a bit longer than any of the other artists that performed before him. 

Joe Walsh of the Eagles followed with a duet with Robert Randolph.  Joe Walsh was easily the most animated of all the performers that night as he let completely loose and used every inch of the stage.  He performed a thunderous version of “Up On Cripple Creek”.

My Morning Jacket took over the stage for a few songs.  I honestly had never heard their music before and really did not know much about them, other than them being in an American Dad episode.  However, they really showcased some incredible musical talent.  The songs they performed became true jam-outs.  And when they were joined by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd for the classic song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” the entire Arena became a full on sing-a-long.  That song became the true highlight of the night for all. 

Roger Waters told a story about a red Arkansas hat that Levon had given him.  Roger actually brought the hat with him on stage and said it has become his fishing hat and will be one of his prized possessions until the day he dies.  Roger sang a beautiful rendition of “Wide River to Cross” and then invited the entire ensemble on stage.

 At that point, all the musicians from the night stood together with three microphones and sang the classic The Band song: “The Weight”. 

Roger took over one microphone, Lucinda Williams another, and Dierks Bentley and Eric Church shared the third microphone.  It was a touching way to end a great tribute to amazing legend.  Levon surely must have been looking down and thanking all in attendance for keeping it going. 

1. “The Shape I’m In” – Warren Haynes
2. “Long Black Veil” – Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes
3. “Trouble in Mind” – Jorma Kaukonen and Barry Mitterhoff
4. “This Wheel’s on Fire”- the Midnight Ramble Band with Larry Campbell on vocals
5. “Little Birds”- the Midnight Ramble Band with Amy Helm and Teresa Williams on vocals
6. “Listening to Levon” – Marc Cohn
7. “Move Along Train” – Mavis Staples
8. “Life is a Carnival” – Allen Toussaint and Jaimoe
9. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” – John Prine with Garth Hudson
10. “Anna Lee” – Bruce Hornsby
11. “Ain’t Got No Home” – Jakob Dylan and Rami Jaffee of the Wallflowers
12. “Whispering Pines” – Lucinda Williams
13. “Rag Mama Rag” – John Hiatt, Mike Gordon
14. “Baby Don’t You Do It” –  David Bromberg and Joan Osborne
15. “I Shall Be Released”-  Grace Potter
16. “Tears of Rage” – Ray LaMontagne with John Mayer
17. “Rockin’ Chair” – Dierks Bentley
18. “Chest Fever” – Dierks Bentley, Jon Randall, Jessi Alexander, and Garth Hudson
19. “A Train Robbery” – Eric Church
20. “Get Up Jake” – Eric Church
21. “Tennessee Jed” – Larry Campbell with John Mayer
22. “Up on Cripple Creek” – Joe Walsh and Robert Randolph
23. “Ophelia” –  My Morning Jacket
24. “It Makes No Difference” – My Morning Jacket
25. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” – Roger Waters with My Morning Jacket
26. “Wide River to Cross” – Roger Waters and Amy Helm
27. “The Weight” – Entire Ensemble

Video of the Ensemble Cast performing “The Weight”