Helm’s birthday cake at Mountain Jam
Hunter, NY’s Mountain Jam festival came to a close last night with a guest-heavy performance by Levon Helm. Billed as the drummer’s 70th Birthday Jubilee, the two-hour set featured appearances by other Mountain Jam performers and several additional guests. Helm, who lives outside Woodstock, NY near Hunter, turned 70 on May 26.
Throughout his performance, the drummer was backed by his expansive band, including his daughter Amy Helm, band leader Larry Campbell, latter day Band guitarist Jim Weider, bassist Byron Isaacs, keyboardist Brian Mitchell and singer Teresa Williams. In addition, Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen, who is married to Amy Helm’s mother, performed with the band for much of its set. Fagen has sat in at a number of recent Midnight Rambles and sang lead on a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.” Partway through Helm’s performance, an elaborate birthday cake was also brought onstage.
After playing Band staples like “The Shape I’m In,” “Long Black Veil” and “Ophelia,” the parade of guests started. Helm met the show’s guests at different points in his career.Sam Bush, who befriended Helm a few years ago after the Americana musicians shared a dressing room at a Little Feat tribute show, appeared on a few songs throughout the night, while bassist David Hood, who recorded on Helm’s early solo albums, sat in with his son Patterson on “Unfaithful” and “I’ll Take You.” Husband/wife duo Steve Earle and Allison Moorer appeared on “Sweet Virgina” and event host Warren Haynes emerged for a handful of songs, including Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell.”
Two younger musicians who first collaborated with Helm over the past few years also sat in during Helm’s performance. Ray Lamontagne, who sang with Helm on his recent taping for Elvis Costello’s Spectacle, appeared on “Across the Great Divide,” and Jackie Greene, who toured with Helm as part of Phil Lesh & Friends, emerged for “Rock and Roll Shoes” and “W S Walcott Medicine Show.” The entire ensemble returned to the stage at the end of the night for a sing-along take on “The Weight.”
Earlier in the day one of Michael Franti & Spearhead’s two shows at this year’s Mountain Jam was interrupted when heavy rain fell on the festival. The music later resumed. The festival’s final day also featured performances by Matisyahu, The Bridge, Jamie McLean Band, the McLovins and Justin Townes Earle, among others. Greene sat in with ALO during its set, while Matisyahu played with a slightly readjusted band boasting keyboardist Rob Marscher and the Dub Trio.