“The music of The Band meant the world to me…” says John Barry, the freelance writer/music journalist who has been a keen observer of regional events for decades and now has offered a definitive version of Levon Helm’s last years and how his Midnight Rambles provided him with an iconic final act. “It opened my eyes and heart to the American south, and piqued my curiosity to learn more.”
“Millions of people followed Levon and the Band because of the music — just iconic American music that has stood the test of time, and will stand the test of time for generations, ‘Ophelia,’‘Stage Fright,’‘The Shape I’m In,’ — that’s part of the bedrock of this country.
“But Levon’s story of being diagnosed with cancer of the vocal cords, filing for bankruptcy more than once, almost losing his home, and then having this vision to just turn the knob on his front door and invite this band into his living room, which was the catalyst to this triumph for him — this amazing run for the last years of his life, that just transcends the music…I would be so bold as to say that it really illustrates the enduring American spirit and our humanity and his humanity.
“From a hard news perspective, and the hard news journalist within me, compelling stories just don’t come any better.”
Barry’s new book, Levon Helm: Rock, Roll & Ramble—The Inside Story of the Man, the Music and the Midnight Ramble, will be the topic of a Golden Notebook-sponsored conversation with Barry and Barbara O’Brien, at 2 p.m. Sunday, August 28 at Nancy’s Artisanal Creamery, 297 Tinker Street, Bearsville, 12409. O’Brien worked closely with Levon Helm to produce the Midnight Rambles — a series of concerts which ran at Helm’s home in Woodstock from 2004 until Levon’s death in 2012. The site remains a valuable venue in the Woodstock music community these days.
Barry wrote about music for the Poughkeepsie Journal for 18 years, and before that as a hard news reporter for Gannett.
“Even before I took my first journalism class at SUNY New Paltz, I loved going to concerts.I grew up in Rockland County so we had the Meadowlands, the Garden, all of that was within reach as a teenager…by the time I got to college at SUNY New Paltz I had seen, how many shows?Bought all the records…But The Midnight Rambles wrecked me for live music because the setting (Levon’s living room), the 12 piece band, Levon leading it all, I had never seen anything like it and I never will see anything like it, in terms of live performance, the horn section, the whole thing…
“Emmy Lou Harris, Bob Weir, Ricky Skaggs, Mumford and Sons, they all traveled here (to Woodstock). In the early 2000s, the music industry was shifting with the digital age…I’m an album guy, I still like albums, they tell a story…but these days it’s all the digital single and iTunes, which is fine. But all of that was gaining traction or under way, and here Levon’s response was a lot of acoustic instruments, friends and family — he’s playing with his daughter, Larry (Campbell) and Teresa (Williams), husband and wife, there was a big family element. The pot luck table…it was almost like his response to what was going on in the music industry…and I would say, he shifted the music industry single handedly with the Rambles…
“Just as a guy and an Ulster County neighbor, we’ll never ever, ever see someone like Levon Helm again, in my opinion…”
John Barry and Barbara O’Brien will discuss his new book, Levon Helm: Rock, Roll & Ramble — The Inside Story of the Man, the Music and the Midnight Ramble, at 2 p.m. Sunday, August 28 at Nancy’s Artisanal Creamery, at the Bearsville Center, 297 Tinker Street, Bearsville.