Sunday, May 6, 2012

Levon Helm – The Man Behind the Legend

By Valerie Ramos-Ford

Back in 2003, Levon Helm played a small but spectacular evening of music at The Black Potatoe (yes,
with an “e”) Music Festival in Central New Jersey. Black Potatoe was, and continues to be, a gem of a
small festival where virtual unknowns and gifted local talent shared a line-up with some of the great
musicians and legends of our time. Among these greats was the great Levon Helm.

There was a great deal of excitement in the crowd at the Festival that year because, in addition to
Levon being scheduled to close out Saturday night’s line-up with The Barnburners and David Johansen
singing lead, Levon’s daughter, Amy, was scheduled to play one of the first gigs ever with her then new
band, Olabelle. Right before Olabelle was to hit the stage, Levon and Amy could be seen behind the
stage with their heads together, speaking quietly. They were looking over Olabelle’s first set-list. It took
one moment seeing this for all of the illusions of celebrity we relate to the “greats” to fall away. It was
beautiful. Yes, the incredible musician and legend who would take the stage just hours later was simply
standing there as a father giving his daughter advice and encouragement as she prepared to step onto
the stage and into the world her father had spent most of his life in.

Levon had already been battling his illness for several years. Other than witnessing how the people
around him seemed particularly mindful and gentle regarding his comfort, one would have never know
the herculean battle he was waging. Despite the organizers’ attempts to do their job of whisking Levon
from the green-room to the stage and back during those dog days of July, Levon stopped and talked
to anyone and everyone who wanted to. He talked technique with young, unknown musicians, about
chicken and ribs with one of the food vendors, and with me about how damned hard it seemed to be for
photographers to get good solid shots of drummers. He promised he would “try to give me something
good”. Yes, I got some good shots, but the good Levon gave me and everyone that day and evening was
something you can’t capture in a camera. He allowed us all to see the man behind the legend. Thank
you, Levon.

© 2012 Valerie Ford Photography

No comments:

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More