In a course of events too strange and convoluted to relate here, in precisely 12 minutes I go onstage at the original Woodstock Festival site in Bethel NY to play with Levon Helm. We start with "Rag Mama" in the key of E, which is no fun when your tuba is pitched to Bb and the original recording was in F. Evidently, I'm getting the lead break on the tune.
You will wish me luck.
Here's the link from Levon Helm.com, great shots of both me and Frank London if you scroll through the pics to see.
OK, it went pretty darn good. I rode up with Frank London who was subbing for the regular trumpeter. (I'm in NYC for a big gig, but that's another post yet to come.) It was his idea to bring me up and then just spring me on Levon unannounced. That's what we call in this business a good buddy. We got there, Louis London tagging along for "color," set up back stage and waited to hear if I was cool. After a short wait I was shuttled in to meet Levon himself. His team worked super professionally and super classy to make sure the Boss never had anything but a great day at the office. He was after all recovering from a really serious cancer battle. His boys all had "Helmland Security" blazed on their t-shirts and they meant business.
Levon said howdy, asked me a few questions, then apologized for the key change (due to his recovery) and bade me to hang out with the band. I did the sound check and then hung out for a good long while with the band who were in a word, amazing. Conan O'Brien guitarist Jimmy Vivino, multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, reed man Eric Lawrence and pianist Brian Mitchell all stepped up and played, as a NYC friend of mine likes to say, "like men." Larry did a duet with his lovely wife that was son heart achingly beautiful I actually cried.
And Levon. Holy shit!!! he looked so good and healthy after just beating back throat cancer and all. Screw the Band, I'll take Mr. Helm on a bad night. Jeez, I mean his time and feel on drums and mandolin were at turns impeccable, iconoclastic and deeply, deeply musical.
I got up and did my damnedest 16 bars in E on Rag Mama, and Levon was smiling the whole while. Even got called back for the encore.
As we were leaving, Mr. Vivino paid me one of the best compliments I've had to date. After hanging out several hours, chatting and shooting the shit as musicians tend to do when gathered., Jimmy shakes my hand and says "Man, you may talk a lot of shit. But brother, you back it all up.."
Now I'm smiling....