Concert Review: The Helm Family Midnight Ramble with the Chakour Family Garden @ Levon Helm Studios, 2/4/23

WOODSTOCK – This was the inaugural session for the revival of the Midnight Rambles.  It was also my first visit to the house that Levon built.   It has always been on my list for a concert venue, but I, too suffered from Covid interruptus.  Many things heralded the coming of my Barn year:  Amy Helm is out there playing and has a new album, What the Flood Leaves Behind.  Her son Lavon Collins has been seen in “the best seat of the house.”  Byron Isaacs was going to be in the first three of the Rambles.  This.  Was. The. Year.  

For those who don’t know, a midnight ramble was created to provide a space for musicians to collect, commune, and raise spirits, while working their craft.  This evolved into a rent-generator in support of the Barn’s expenses.  For more about the Rambles and this wonderful venue, read John Barry’s book, Levon Helm: Rock Roll and Ramble – The Inside Story of the Man, the Music, and the Midnight Ramble.  Stay tuned for a book review by yours truly.  The Barn is a prodigious building – unassuming on the outside – open rafters, beams, and columns on the inside.  The sound is awesome both downstairs and in the balcony.  I can only imagine the space above and behind the stage is satisfying as well, since people stayed there all night long!

The Rambles have lived on as part of Levon’s lasting legacy of grass roots music and extended family ties.  His daughter Amy has taken up his metaphorical sticks in keeping the venue alive and you can see her and her son Lavon, behind the kit, too.  There are additional HFM Rambles scheduled for March 4, April 1, May 6 and June 2.  Check them out under the legit name of Levon Helm Studios, Woodstock, NY, at Levon Helm Studios

The Chakour Family is comprised of Mitch and his daughter, Alecia, and son, Alex. Their talents have lead them to play multiple instruments, produce, compose, and engineer.  Mitch has more than dabbled in various musical palettes spanning gospel, blues, and rock – from Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, to Joe Cocker and J. Geils.  Alecia has lent her pipes to many musicians, not the least of which as a member of The Tedeschi Trucks Band, as well as releasing her own music through Chakourah.  Alex has spent many years touring New England and as a New Yorker, tours, produces and engineers for many others.  Currently, he is a guitarist for Grammy winner, Brittany Howard.  

I have to say I went into the concert not knowing the music of the family Chakour, and purposely did not research them.  I was pleasantly surprised by the mix of revival, soul, funk, and (I heard a tinge of) new age delivered in a mix of spiritual and straight on rock voice/instruments. I was pleasantly surprised and will have to find more of their music in which to dabble.

Amy pulled together The Helm Family Ramble from a stellar group of those who are often regulars (thanks for completing the list, Christy!).  You may recognize them and if you don’t you would be well served in boning up!  The group included:  

  • Brian Mitchell (piano/vocals)
  • Zach Djanikian (multi instruments/vocals)
  • Connor Kennedy (guitar/vocals)
  • Amy Helm (drums/vocals)
  • Byron Isaacs (bass/vocals)
  • Tony Leone (drums/vocals)
  • Lavon Collins (drums/vocals)
  • Adam Minkoff (vocals/multi instruments
  • The horn section:
  • Jay Collins (sax)
  • Steve Bernstein (trumpet)
  • Erik Lawrence (sax)

They plowed through Levon’s Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt albums and The Band’s cannon hitting such well known tunes as: “Rag Mama Rag,” “Anna Lee,” “Life is a Carnival,” and as always, closing with “The Weight.”  A highlight of the evening was when Connor Kennedy led the band in a tribute/memorial/celebration of David Crosby.  “Déjà Vu” and “Wooden Ships” were played on Crosby’s own white, gold trimmed, Gretsch guitar, gifted to Kennedy. (Thanks to Cindy Wells for being my fact checker!) I was totally absorbed in the music and watching all the players wield their instruments cum paintbrushes to bring a fleeting, aural masterpiece to life.  I stayed in the moment, so I could keep the image for myself.  Wow I tortured that art metaphor, huh?  But I hope I gave you a picture of what my first Ramble was for me.

It was a great show and how can you go wrong with all that talent?  Waiting was a bummer, ‘cause I am impatient and get bad FOMO.  Do yourself a favor, do it as soon as you can.

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