As Whitney and I prepare for our trip to Hendricks Elementary School this morning, my husband Mike Knezovich weighs in with a guest post:
Beth listens to the radio a lot, and she listens with more attention than most. Last week she heard about a special show at a very special place: Levon
That’s a lot of goodness in one place, so we made an impulse buy. And on the night of St. Patrick’s Day, we traveled to Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood for the benefit.
The Old Town School of Folk Music is a music venue, but more important, it’s a part of the fabric of Chicago. Thousands of kids and adults from all over Chicago take lessons there every week. Who knows how many have picked up a guitar or mandolin or cello or whatever since the school opened in 1957. Beth and I have a half-dozen friends who’ve taken up instruments and taken music lessons there. And they all speak glowingly of their experience.
Before the performance Saturday night, we browsed the silent auction. Instead of sports memorabilia or luxury cruises, this one had lots of concert posters and handwritten playlists and other music memorabilia. One photo froze me in my tracks. There he was, a baby-faced John Prine, probably in his 20s, strumming his guitar while sitting next to the fairly ramshackle registration desk at the original Old Town School location. Hello in There.
There were photos of — and music by — Steve Goodman, the writer of The City of New Orleans. Like Prine, he was an Old Town School icon, but Steve Goodman died way too young. Everywhere I turned, I saw artifacts. Performers from Bob Dylan to Peter, Paul and Mary to Pete Seeger to Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
The performance? Well, I’m still buzzing. Levon took his place at the drum set, aided by a second drummer. There was a trombone, two saxes, a trumpet, a Hammond B3, a bassist, two guitarists, and two terrific backup singers (though the term backup doesn’t do these women justice) including Levon Helm’s daughter Amy. And Donald Fagen at the electric piano with ultra-cool jazzman sunglasses. The band broke from lots of rootsy numbers into a couple Fagen/Steely Dan tunes, including “Black Friday,” and they did it perfectly. All the musicians were superb. None of the crowd was fiddling with their cell phones, all were enrapt.
Levon, who’s in his 70s now and has survived cancer, looked scrawny and a little frail, yet somehow he seemed to look exactly as he always has. I remember seeing him in The Last Waltz at The Lans Theater in my hometown — Lansing, Ill, in 1974. It was a film of The Band’s farewell performance – directed by Martin Scorscese. Even then, Levon Helm looked old and wise. I was all of 17.
But Saturday night, ages and dates and numbers didn’t matter. I didn’t feel old. I didn’t feel young. I just felt great. Here’s to Levon Helm and to the Old Town School.