Original publish date: April 11, 2019
You are cordially invited to come over to the Irving theatre this Saturday, April 13th from 2 PM to 4 PM and talk about music. This is the 50th anniversary year of Woodstock, the concert that changed both the culture and history of music while defining a generation. More importantly, this event will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first live concert by The Band at the Winterland ballroom in San Francisco California. The Band (Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson) not only change the face of rock ‘n roll, they almost single-handedly created the movement that became known as “Americana” music. Although known by many as Bob Dylan’s backup band, as we shall see this Saturday, there is more to the fellas than meets the eye.
When these five self-described bearded “Cowboys” appeared on the January 12, 1970 cover of Time magazine (a first for an American band by the way) they were described as “The New Sound of Country Rock.” They came to epitomize Woodstock, the community and the concert, although they landed at both quite coincidentally. In an era when other bands were writing and performing songs about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, The Band were performing songs about reflection and history created in the basement of a little pink house in the Catskill Mountains. The songs dripped with sentiment, depth and meaning straight out of the pages of American history even though four out of the five members were Canadians.
This Saturday I will host an in depth discussion about The Band and its impact on American music. Joining me will be local radio legends Dave “the King” Wilson, Ed Wenck and Jay Baker. The program will start at 1:30 p.m. with live music in the Irving theatre performed by The Mud Creek Conservancy, the acoustic duo of Ed Wenck and Josh Gillespie. Occurring before the presentation this will be their first live performance. The duo will play and explain a couple of The Band’s best-known songs for us during the discussion as well. The program will also include a live podcast of “Firehouse Irvington” by Kevin Friedly and Jay Baker after the show. We invite you to come out, share thoughts, ask questions and even bring your guitar to play and sing along in what promises to be a show for the ages.
Channel 13’s Nicole Misensik and Brandon Kline will be on hand to assist with questions from the audience and Dave Wilson will act as the official emcee. The program will feature film clips of The Band on stage, taped interviews and historic photographs that, combined with the discussion, will help form a more complete history of what many critics believe was the greatest band in the history of rock ‘n roll. The band’s iconic lyrics will be discussed as well as their motivation and meaning and songwriting process. Not to mention some interesting connections to pop culture events and personalities that lasted well before and long after their breakup in 1976.
The Band was born only after the near fatal motorcycle accident involving the world’s most famous electric folksinger changed their direction. And, although The Band’s first album “Music From Big Pink” debuted on July 1st, 1968, the band from West Saugerties, New York did not perform live until the spring of 1969 a continent away in San Francisco. The album was created start to finish in two weeks time with no overdubbing, unheard of for its day. What’s more, The Band very nearly didn’t take the stage at all; saved only after legendary promoter Bill Graham picked a hypnotist out of a bay area phonebook to right the ship. The little-known stories of these great incidents will be discussed this Saturday.
Most people forget that The Band even performed at Woodstock, let alone was a headliner. We will discuss how mismanagement not only kept The Band out of the film and off of the soundtrack, it kept Bob Dylan off of the stage. All but only the most devoted fans realize that The Band not only performed at Woodstock, but also at the largest concert in the history of music alongside the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers at Watkins Glen New York four years later. And then there was the 1970 Festival Express tour across Canada featuring Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and The Band. The Festival Express was a 14 car long train that stopped in three Canadian cities: Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary, during the summer of 1970, that ultimately became one long non-stop jam session and never ending party fueled by drugs and alcohol.
To understand The Band, one must also understand the era into which it was born. Big Pink’s 1968 debut was also the year of student protests against the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy’s assassination, riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Black Panther demonstrations, feminists protesting the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, Apollo 7 and 8’s moon landing rehearsal flights, Charles Manson gathering his cult members at Spahn Ranch and Nixon’s nomination for president. To many, America was coming apart at the seams and the divide between generations had never seemed wider. This band, formed out of a classically trained musician, a teenaged alcoholic, a butche’rs apprentice, a Jewish Native American grifter and a veteran performer from the Mississippi Delta, stepped forward to bridge the gap.
While considered the fathers of the history conscious “Americana” music movement, make no mistake about it, these guys were quintessential rock and rollers. Fast cars, fast women, and fast times punctuated the lives of each member of The Band. They started in the age of rockabilly, while Elvis Presley was still shaking things, up and finished at the dawn of hip-hop. They crossed paths with Hollywood movie stars, gangsters and presidents. Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Conway Twitty, Tiny Tim, Jack Ruby, Martin Scorsese and Jimmy Carter all play a part in the story of these four Canadians and one self-described “cracker” from Arkansas to create a mystique that still surrounds them today, long after three out of the five band members have passed.
Not only is this Saturday’s event timed to coincide with an important anniversary in the history of The Band, it is also taking place on “National Record Store Day”. There will be live music outside the Irving theatre beginning early in the day and lasting long after this presentation concludes. The program will start at 2 PM, admission is free, but we ask that you please make a donation at the door to the weekly view newspaper to help support the Free Press of Indianapolis.