A nature and music filled weekend in upstate New York. The weather was picture perfect as we left the city in our rental car by way of Palisades Parkway. We stopped at a lovely scenic overlook to admire a view of Manhattan we rarely get to experience.
As we drove down the New York State Thruway, the weather remained unmatchable, the trees glowing in their shades of orange and yellows. It was simply magnificent. Coming from the Blue Ridge Mountains to live in NYC, the drive reminded how lovely the change of season is and how I longed for Virginia. New York, however, served up such images of beauty over the weekend, I half considered, just for a moment, how nice it would be to have my parents move here to join my sister and I to live out our days in the tri-state area.
Leaving Manhattan in the early afternoon, Jay and I were dropped off at the mouth of the Mohunk Preserve. The weekend started with a rocky rambling hike through the Preserve to the Mohunk Mountain House. So majestically beautiful, I couldn’t possibly have left it out of the weekend’s descriptions. Walking through the halls of this massive castle the Quakers built back in the 1800s, I immediately felt like I was in the Stephen King novel, The Shining. And as I vocalize this thought to my companion he turns to tell me that Stephen King stayed here and this was where he got the inspiration for the movie. Creepy.
Walking to the top of the Mohunk Mountain to the tower was magical. I felt as if I was in a different land. How could I be in New York? How could it have taken me 7 years to make my way to this beautiful area. Simply majestic.
I ended Saturday with a few new bruises and so many smiles, surrounded by new friends and excited for what Sunday would bring. As we awoke Sunday morning, I stepped out on to the back porch of the country house and took in the view and the fresh air. What a great day for a Ramble. The sun was shining, the air had warmed and our friends had started to gather for round two. But what is a Ramble you ask? Once a month, Levon Helm, best known as the drummer for The Band, holds a The Midnight Ramble inside “The Barn” located on his Woodstock New York property. That is pretty awesome. Today was a free Levon Helm’s Kids Ramble and it would be held at Gills Farm.
The Kids Ramble was slated to go from 2pm to 4pm. We arrived around 1pm and the parking had already gotten tight. As I exited the car, the first sounds I heard came from THE PUMPKIN LAUNCHER. A pretty insane part of the event. The epic sound of this launcher was ridiculous. I hadn’t seen the thing yet but I imagined this GIANT slingshot type thing going down. Not the case. First thing I saw, as we made our way to the property, peeking out just above the tree line, was the tip of a metal shaft and a chunk of pumpkin spewing out. This thing was more crucial then I could even imagine. The second thing I see is a crowd of people checking out this MASSIVE, double-tanked 30+ foot welded, metal pumpkin launcher. Apparently, they have contests giving people a reason to build these excellent contraptions.
Having a 6 year old with us, this Ramble was designed for her and her peer group. There was a giant pumpkin field on the right side of the property where families were picking pumpkins to take home. There was face painting and pumpkin carving stations. You had an amazing tractor ride that took families through the pumpkin field, the corn field, a mud bog and back to the pumpkin field. Then you had this enclosed hay tunnel the kids could climb through. And although I never saw the end, it must have had one as the kids came bounding to the soundboard once the music started.
The entire event was was literally held in the parking lot and side field (a little more then an acre of space maybe??) in the store font of Gills Farm. Taking a look around, there were easily 300 people crammed onto this property and SPILLING into the streets, into the pumpkin field. It got to the point where the locals had parked along the nearby streets, blocking the shuttle buses picking people up from the designated parking lots.
On the side of the store was the kitchen where they sold roasted corn, corn chowder, chili, hot dogs, squash soup, ciders and more. I can speak for the roasted corn and corn chowder. I had never had roasted corn before and I believe it made it into my top 100 all time favorite foods now. A-MA-ZING! Then you had the corn chowder which I had heard others raving about. It was not overly salted or peppered so the simplicity of the corn really came through. I loved it.
As we attempted to find a spot to sit and eat, we came across a few upside down plastic crates and sat. Just as I was about to dig into my corn I was told I had to move. There was no natural seating except for a few benches here that were all taken up. As I walked away to head to our blanket behind the soundboard, the crowd started cheering. Seems I had been sitting right next to Levon’s trailer and sadly, as my hands were filled with scrumptious farm treats, I was unable to get pictures. I was also a little open-jawed as Donald Fagan followed close behind. And as I made it to the soundboard, Levon made it to the stage.
The Levon Helm’s Band
Levon Helm – Drums, Guitar, Vocals
Larry Campbell – Guitar, Mandolin, Violin, Vocals
Amy Helm – Backup Vocals
Teresa Williams – Guitar and Vocals
Jim Weider – Guitar
Byron Isaacs – Upright Bass
Brian Mitchell – unknown
Jay Collins – Saxophone
Erik Lawrence – Saxophone
Howard Johnson –
Justin Flick – Drums
Steven Bernstein – Trumpet
Clark Gayton – Trombone
Donald Fagan – Keys
Daniel Lewis – Keys
They started the set with notable songs from The Band‘s catalog like Look Out Cleveland and Long Black Veil. Larry Campbell, a self taught musician who has never had formal training on any of the instruments he plays, switched from guitar to mandolin to violin throughout the set. Teresa Williams also on guitar, sang like a dove. Long Black Veil was a favorite of the day thanks to her earthy vocals.
Next we had Donald Fagan give us a sultry, bluesy intro to a song I am unsure of. He sang the lyrics and melted the last few notes. I really wish I could recall the title. Ophelia had everyone cheering and singing along. A great song. There was a large horn section with two saxophones, a trumpet and trombone. Each one taking their turn for a solo throughout the song. Almost sounding second line-esque the entire set.
Then we had the Grateful Dead covers by way of Shakedown Street with Donald Fagan on lead vocals. Deep Elem Blues had Larry Cambell on mandolin, hippies dancing in pumpkin patches and the horns got down and dirty as Levon played his electric mandolin while Justin Flick took his place at the drum kit.
With all these people he brings to a stage, Levon is never far from adding more and more. Out walks Daniel Lewis (Gov’t Mule) to play keys along side Donald Fagan for Tennessee Jed. I saw a guy on the french horn at this point but I was unsure of who he was. The horn players evaded me as I couldn’t get close enough to make out faces.
Donald Fagan and Daniel Lewis blasted out on the keys for a superb cover of Steely Dan’s Black Friday. Teresa Williams BELTED out Hot Tuna‘s Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning. This song was originally a spiritual song sung by Blind Willie Johnson, a favorite of mine. The way her voice melted into the song almost had me in tears. Yup. It’s been a while sing I cried at s show as a result of being touched by the music. She almost had me but not quite. Perhaps yall should check out her band, Ollabelle.
They closed the show out with The Band‘s famous song, The Weight. Everyone was singing. The kids were dancing. Steven Bernstein gave us a wonderful solo on the trumpet. The sun was shining. We all ended the set in a blissful singalong.
SET LIST: Look Out Cleveland, Long Black Veil, ———, Ophelia, Shakedown Street, ————, Deep Elem Blues, Tennessee Jed, Black Friday, Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning, King’s Harvest, The Weight