“Tonight is going to be the most over the top Ramble we have ever had.”
Damn straight, Barbara. Damn straight.
That was the statement that Levon Helm’s manager and Midnight Ramble host, Barbara O’Brien, made when she kicked off the night’s festivities. I had already experienced the Ramble twice in 2011; I went back on 3rd December hoping that the third time would be a charm. It was.
I am from New Hampshire, but I now live in London, UK. I flew in specifically for each of the Rambles I attended this year. For the most recent one I flew in just for the weekend: landed in Boston on Thursday night and flew back to London on Sunday night. It is a long way to travel just for a gig, but this is not just a gig … it is a full-on, bow-down music experience.
My first Ramble was on 29th January, 2011. I wrote an exhaustive story detailing every bit of that experience [read it here]. That Sunday morning when I was pulling out of Woodstock I felt … satisfied. Attending a Ramble is like one massive exhale. Afterwards you feel exhausted and excited and then you start to feel a bit anxious: “I have to do that again!”
(“once you get it, you can’t forget it … “)
After my second Ramble [8th August] I had them old anxious-blues again and was looking for an excuse to get in the big bird and fly back to Woodstock, N.Y. to visit ol’ Levon and friends again. And then I found my it: Dawes.
In late October I received my handy Levon email newsletter. It told me that Dawes would be opening up for Levon at the 3rd December Midnight Ramble. Hot Damn! Dawes was the perfect band to play in Levon’s barn. If you know of Dawes, then you would agree with me and would know full-well why I immediately bought two tickets to that Ramble even before checking on international flights.
If you don’t know Dawes, watch this:
Okay, now you see what I mean. This band wears that old timely, band as a family, pass the jug, the music matters most ethos that permeated throughout the sweet-spot era in Laurel Canyon and up state New York way back when. As expected, Dawes were perfect for the Midnight Ramble. I’ll jump ahead in the story a bit here … before Dawes lit into the third song of their set, Taylor, the lead singer and guitarist and brother of drummer Griffin, said this to the audience: “when we first started out, our manager asked us what our goals were as a band. One of them was to play here at the Midnight Ramble.” And with that, he flashed a big shit-eating grin and they tore into the balls-out sing-a-long, “When My Time Comes.”
At one point or another we are all fans. We all start out as fans and then some fans make the jump from fan to musician, or whatever … professional chef, athlete, actor … whatever. But, once a fan, always a fan. That’s the beauty of it all … being a fan … you never lose that spark of what got you juiced enough to sing-a-long, follow the tour or to once and for all, pick up that guitar and start a strummin’.
Me and Dawes, we were both in Woodstock for the same reason: the experience that is the Ramble. The only difference is that they were playing and I wasn’t. You could see their fan-roots when they played and when they were hanging out during Levon’s band’s set and singing along with the rest of the packed house.
There were other fans in the room, too. At the outset of the night when Barbara made her proclamation of “greatest Ramble ever,” she also told us we were in for a few surprises that evening. She wasn’t lying. The shit hit the fan after Dawes completed the fourth song of their set, “Twilight“, a cover of a classic Band song: Jackson Browne came out on to the floor. Jackson and Dawes had been touring and recording together earlier this year. Seeing him come up with Dawes made sense, but still, it was a welcome surprise. The place erupted.