Life Is A Carnival: A Tribute to Levon Helm at Walnut Street

A benefit for Levon Helm’s “The Barn” at the Walnut Street Café April 19

Before Levon Helm died, he told his friends to “Keep it going.” The legendary drummer and singer for The Band, one of the voices who brought to life songs like “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” was referring to The Midnight Rambles, a regular show he and his band would play at The Barn, the nickname for the studio in his Woodstock home that doubled as an intimate venue nearly every week. It started out as a way to help Helm pay his bills during a battle with throat cancer, and turned into a celebration of Americana music at its best – a survey of country, blues, New Orleans stomp, rock and roll and everything with heart. Those talented friends and family members, including Larry Campbell and Amy Helm, are continuing the tradition, but they are still fighting to get out of debt and save The Barn.

In the fall of 2011, musician and journalist Nick Zaino traveled to Woodstock to interview Helm about the Rambles for The Boston Phoenix. The night did not disappoint. He watched the proceedings from what insiders call “the radiator seat,” just a few feet behind Helm’s drum kit. “When Helm is cooking, there is still no drummer in rock and roll who can approach his crisp, relentless drive,” he wrote. “And Helm is always cooking.”

Helm said afterwards of his band, “Didn’t they play it great? They’re the best. That’s the reward of playing this many years, you get to play with people like that.” Those players are still there, hosting regular shows with special guests, much the way they did when Helm still occupied the chair.

Zaino started out playing drums before picking up a guitar to write and sing his own music. He had been a fan of Helm’s and The Band since seeing the legend onstage with Ringo Starr’s All Star Band in 1990 as a high schooler. But his love for Helm’s music cemented in the drummer’s second act, after Helm survived throat cancer, released the Grammy-winning album Dirt Farmer, and once again hit the road. More specifically, it was at a show at the Orpheum in Boston in March of 2008. “The band sounded fantastic, and Helm, with his kit there at the side of the stage, was the heart of it all,” he says. “Every note he played was crisp, clean, and perfect. He played with a joy that radiated, to his band and to the crowd.”

This benefit is a way to give a little back to Helm and the crew at The Barn, and to help them “Keep It Going.” The show is free, but donations will be accepted, and the hat will be passed. “It’s a worthy thing, and it deserves a chance to continue,” says Zaino. He has gathered some talented friends to pay tribute to Helm, including Bobby Leger, Dickie Kraus and Domenic Frizzi, Robert Senn, and his band with Jon Waterman, Millfire Ash, along with a couple of other acts yet to be announced, to play songs from Helm’s and The Band’s repertoire, as well as original songs influenced by that music. “It will be a great evening of music,” says Zaino. “There are some fantastic musicians here on the North Shore, and hopefully we can do our part to help the Midnight Rambles continue.”


Life Is A Carnival: A Tribute To Levon Helm

Hosted by Nick Zaino

With Bobby Leger, Dickie Kraus and Domenic Frizzi, Robert Senn, Millfire Ash and more.

April 19, 8pm

The Walnut Street Café, 157 Walnut Street, Lynn, MA
Free, pass the hat for donations