The whole point of our roadtrip to Woodstock was to attend a Midnight Ramble. About a mile out of Woodstock, off an unsigned driveway through scribbly woods, is a little farm with a pimped out barn – the studio of Levon Helm, best known as the drummer for The Band. Every second Saturday Levon hosts a Ramble, and 200 or so people pay handsomely to hear hours of music from Levon and his amazing band, plus special guests. The night we went, Steve Earle opened proceedings with an unaccompanied acoustic set. The sound quality was phenomenal and I was amazed at how many of Earle’s songs I knew. Of course he closed with "Copperhead Road".
While we waited for the main set, we chatted to cashed-up baby boomers from Jersey and Long Island, nibbled free food (everyone has to bring a plate) and browsed Levon’s collection of Band memorabilia. Levon himself looks incredibly old and frail, but the blissed out expression on his face when he’s behind the drum kit is proof enough that he really just loves to perform. He lost his voice after an operation to remove his throat cancer, it has slowly come back. Now his voice is barely a croak, but he still takes the reins on vocals occasionally.
The rest of the band was incredible – piano, organ, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, sousaphone, double bass, a few guitarists and a female vocalist. Some of the horn players are in Conan O’Brien’s house band. From our balcony perch above the band, we could look down and see the set list - epic Band numbers, classic rhythm and blues, a cameo from Steve Earle... And the big closer: "The Weight". Unfortunately we had to leave before the show finished so we'll never know just how amazing that was, but we did see them do "Ophelia", "Long Black Veil", and a bunch of other killer tunes.
In all it was an expensive trip and tragically cut short, but the music was that good that there are no regrets. My Morning Jacket did a ramble recently. This report on the gig from Rolling Stone is killing me.