2,000 pay tribute to Levon Helm at his Woodstock home (UPDATED; with video)
WOODSTOCK — Some 2,000 mourners paid their respects to Levon Helm on Thursday during a public wake at his home on Plochmann Lane.
Many were fans and some were musicians influenced by Helm, a former member of The Band who died last Thursday at age 71 after a battle with cancer. They walked past his closed casket inside the barn/studio on his property where his signature “Midnight Ramble” concerts were staged on Saturday nights in recent years.
The casket was surrounded by bouquets of flowers, and a slide show about Helm flickered on a white screen above it. Nearby, Helm’s red drum set shimmered.
“When I saw the drum set, I got emotional,” said Connie Kirch, 50, of Woodstock “It was absolutely beautiful.”
“You could really feel his presence, no question,” said David Reid, 44, of Woodstock.
Kirch and Reid were among mourners who waited in long lines at the Woodstock Playhouse and the town’s Andy Lee Field to board school buses going to Helm’s house.
A representative of Tonche Transit, the company that provided the buses, said 1,892 people were transported from the designated shuttle sites during the wake hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and that the buses picked up an additional 100 to 150 people along local roads.
Ed Bacon, 59, a painter from Montgomery, described the wake as a beautiful experience.
“I really dug it,” said Bacon, adding that he once met Helm in Manhattan. “Levon was a real gentleman.” Continued...
Bacon said Helm’s kindness was illustrated in that Manhattan encounter when the musician offered “me some dough.”
The mourners — mostly middle-aged people with a smattering of aging hippies and a few young people — were quietly encouraged to keep the line moving at the wake. Some carried flowers, and a few pressed handkerchiefs to their faces.
“He was an icon but also the guy next door,” said Al Caron of Woodstock as he waited outside the playhouse for one shuttle buses
“The Rambles were like a revival meeting,” Caron said. “There was just a sense of euphoria from the minute you arrived at his home, and he will be missed.”
Also among the mourners were Sharon and Charles Fisher of Accord, standing at the end of one of the bus lines.
“I feel like he is at peace,” said Mrs. Fisher, 60.
“He is a legend,” her husband said.
Allen Finch, 52, of Margaretville, said he’s kept an invitation to a party at which Helm played.
Finch said he bumped into Helm 15 years ago in a Woodstock drugstore, and the singer said, “I’ll sign it for you.”
“I never saw him again,” Finch said. Continued...
John Harrison, 49, a musician from Harmony, N.J., said Helm was a strong influence on him.
“He pretty much radiated everything that I have believed in music,” Harrison said. “I heard they were running buses, and if they are going to make it that easy, I wanted to go.”
The Band comprised Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel, and its first album was 1968’s “Music From Big Pink,” recorded in a pink house in West Saugerties. That album and its follow-up, “The Band,” remain landmark albums of the era, and songs such as “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up on Cripple Creek” have become rock standards.
Early on, The Band backed Bob Dylan on his electric tours of 1965-66 and collaborated with him on the legendary “Basement Tapes,” also recorded at Big Pink. On his website last week, Dylan called Helm “one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation.”
Manuel died in 1986, Danko in 1999.
Helm is to be buried today in the Woodstock Cemetery, next to Danko, after a private funeral.
The son of an Arkansas cotton farmer, Helm was just out of high school when he joined rocker Ronnie Hawkins in 1957 as the drummer for the Hawks. That band eventually recruited a group of Canadian musicians who, along with Helm, would split from Hawkins, join Dylan and ultimately become The Band.
The Band bid farewell to live shows with “The Last Waltz” concert in 1976 in San Francisco. Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Dylan were among the stars who played the show, filmed by Martin Scorsese. “The Last Waltz” is regarded by many as the greatest of concert films, but it also helped lead to a bitter split between Robertson and Helm, once the best of friends.
The Band reunited without Robertson in the 1980s but never approached its early success.
In 2004, Helm started the free-wheeling “Midnight Ramble” shows in his barn. He recorded “Dirt Farmer” in 2007 and “Electric Dirt” in 2009. Both albums won Grammys, and he won another this year for “Ramble at the Ryman.” Continued...
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