Levon Helm Tribute featuring Bustle In Your Hedgerow , Brooklyn Bowl – 6/4
Coming together out of love and respect for Levon Helm, dozens of musicians gathered at Brooklyn Bowl and paid tribute to their fallen hero by performing a three hour set of Levon favorites. Bustle In Your Hedgerow, featuring Marco Benevento, Dave Dreiwitz, Joe Russo and Scott Metzger, acted as the house band for the night as various guests paraded on and off the stage. They took the stage first joined by a horn section and a trio of female singers as Scott Metzger led the band through “Ophelia” and Kelli Scarr took lead on a ripping “Slippin’ and Slidin’.”
Then the special guests started to flow out as Ryan Miller of Guster, Matthew Houk of Phosphorescent and Luke Rathborne led the band through the tragically overlooked Band chestnut “Ain’t No More Cain.” In true The Band fashion, keyboardists Marco Benevento and Jason Crosby switched over to accordion and fiddle respectively, accompanying the perfect vocal harmonies of Miller, Houk and Rathborne with a rootsy flavor. Craig Finn and Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady took the stage next and led the band through a muscular “Jemima Surrender” before Finn struggled to match Richard Manual’s vocals on a lackluster “Yazoo Street Scandal.”
After a few punchy rockers, they switched pace and covered a slice of The Band’s folkier side. Family Band took the stage accompanied only by fiddle and showed off stunningly tender vocal harmonies on “Evangeline” in a performance so spellbinding that the sold out Brooklyn Bowl crowd was totally silenced. The equally delicate and haunting “Whispering Pines” followed and featured a gorgeous duet between Kelli Scarr and Nicole Atkins while Benevento mimicked Garth Hudson’s lush keyboard textures from the original recording. As Benevento then switched to accordion, Grayson Capps took the stage and harmonized with Nicole Atkins and Leah Siegel on “Dirt Farmer” from Levon’s 2007 album.
The tempo shifted back towards rock and roll as Tom Hamilton of American Babies infused “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” with snarling bluesy guitar licks and Jonah Smith and Diamond Doves led the crowd through sing-alongs on “Don’t Do It” and “Up On Cripple Creek.” Sam Cohen of Yellowbirds took the stage next and was joined by Levon Helm Band guitarist Jim Weider, keyboardist Brian Mitchell and bassist Byron Isaacs for the rousing thump of “WS Walcott Medicine Show.”
The Ian Felice-led sing-along on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” proved to be the cathartic peak of the show but the band perfectly blended landmark Levon songs like that with lesser-known gems. Grayson Capps wasn’t the only one to dip into solo Levon Helm solo material, as Kelli Scarr led the girls through a moving, near a capella reading of “Anna Lee” while Levon Helm Band members joined for the Byron Isaacs-penned “Cavalry.” Considering many of the musicians onstage had never played together before, the bold setlist full of rare gems was a little surprising – and how flawlessly well these songs were performed was even more impressive.
The night came to a close with all the night’s guests emerging for “I Shall Be Released” led by gorgeous falsetto vocals from Miller for the most moving and tender moment of the night. But when the band burst into a jubilant singalong on “The Weight,” it was clear that this was not a night to mourn Levon’s death but to celebrate his life. With over 25 musicians from a diverse mix of bands grinning and having the time of their lives onstage, the tribute demonstrated not only the enormous scope of Levon’s influence but also that his infectious enthusiasm and undying love of playing music will live on forever.