The Levon Helm Band Levon Helm Studios, Woodstock, NY July 18

The Levon Helm Band Levon Helm Studios, Woodstock, NY July 18
At even the best concerts, a two-hour-plus performance can get almost anyone a little antsy. This isn't a problem at Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble at his home/studio in Woodstock, NY. While most of the 150 fans sat or stood paying rapt attention to an ensemble many claimed were "the best band in America right now," others headed out by Levon's dock to drink a few Bud Lights, or sat around a fire talking about Levon's latest album Electric Dirt. Except for the ridiculous quality of the music, and the notable Woodstock artists in attendance, it felt like a rockin' party at someone's Muskoka cottage, like you might see on a beer commercial.

The highlight of the night was aging bluesman Little Sammy Davis and his three-song set. Having just recovered from a stroke and looking all of his 80 years, he let palpable emotion loose into the air, which was kindled to a roar by his piercing harmonica solos long before anyone caught a glimpse of one-time Band drummer Levon.

Helm, victorious over a battle with throat cancer, only sang a few songs. But his ecstatic grin behind the drum kit during the vocal turns of his daughter Amy or Teresa Williams was worth the price of admission by itself. Former Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell carried the bulk of the singing duties backed by a terrific three-piece horn section given unparalleled leeway to solo their lungs out. Consumate session man Brian Mitchell banged out glorious accompaniment on the Hammond XK-3 organ and the accordion. He also sang several songs in his gravelly blues bark. The easygoing crowd was thrilled by tunes off Levon's latest two critically adored albums, traditional numbers like "Deep Elem Blues" and heart-wrenching harmonies on standards like "Everybody Loves a Winner."

To quote a gentleman who's attended five Midnight Rambles, "Best time I ever had at a concert and I've been to plenty."