I remember when I first moved to Nashville 8 years ago, I frequented a few bars that I’d rather not mention. Let’s just say I had a great and extremely shallow time. I sometimes felt out of place – like Paul Westerberg hanging out with Duran Duran. As the story goes though, when the bars shut down it was my apartment on West End that became Nashville’s most exclusive after bar. People marveled at my record player with accompanying record collection to go with it. I’d spin whatever pretentious or just plain bad taste selections (granted I owned these LP’s of “Bad Taste”) these people I didn’t know requested. As the nights drug on nothing seemed to clear early aught dance club scenesters out quite like “Americana.” There was a time when that was a dirty word in this town.
When I really needed to clear out the riff raff, the “Brown Album” by the Band always helped. It’s so funny to think, the same type of folks who 8 years ago ran out of my apartment at the sound of “The Night They Drove ol’ Dixie Down,” probably helped Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers & Grace Potter sell out two nights at the Ryman. I’m getting off track here. Let’s get back to fact that Levon Helm’s voice has soothed many a hangover for me, the irony is that I probably had passed out watching The Last Waltz the night before.
I was a last minute replacement, but nonetheless honored participant in a special night paying tribute to one of our fallen, outlaw heroes…the legendary Levon Helm. This past Friday night the Family Wash was transformed into The Church of Levon. You’d think a tribute show for a so recently passed away legend might wind up being too somber, not the case this night. Dave Coleman (of the Coal Men) lead a crack band filled local vets (Mark Miller, Jen Gunnerman), that injected each song with the joy of kids playing “Cripple Creek” for the first time in a garage band…it just so happens that garage band had some of the best players in a town full of the BEST PLAYERS. I’ve been involved with several tribute nights, and I have to say this was by far one of the best. I was impressed with how everyone involved checked their egos at the door, and came with a welcoming spirit. If you had the privilege of witnessing the set as merely a spectator, you were no less a part of this magical night than those of us on stage. Laura Harmondale was enchanting. Melissa Mathis’s voice was fragile & sultry as always. Steven Simmons earnest croon added plenty of gravity to his performances. Zach Tichenor and Buick Audra were both playful in their interpretations, to the point you could picture Levon’s infectious grin as he laid back on the beat. Adam Hill injected a little punk rock into his renditions. And no surprise, Chuck Mead was sly and commanded attention – directing us in painting our own little masterpiece of evening. It was one of the most positive and encouraging night of music I’ve ever been a part of in Nashville, but that’s what I’ve heard Levon’s midnight rambles were like in Woodstock. A damn near spiritual evening – maybe they should serve beer & Shepard’s pie in church.
I always go back to my favorite part of The Last Waltz; when the pride of Turkey Scratch, AR lays it all out for us. He speaks of the blues mixing with gospel as it travels up the river to Memphis, where it mixed with bluegrass and country. The result it’s not complicated, and he doesn’t call it “Americana” either. It’s alright MOMMA! Levon Helm’s called it Rock and Roll. He painted his masterpiece, and we were honored to help celebrate a life well lived!
Related: Read Zach Vinson’s In Their Own Words here.