Levon Helm was more than just a drummer, singer, and mandolinist for The Band. He was the group’s very soul, and not just because of the loamy rural tenor made famous by songs like “The Weight.” As the only actual Southerner in a Canadian outfit that mythologized the American South, Helm shouldered the load of a nostalgic yet troubled history that was, for his compatriots, mostly a dream. You could almost hear this existential burden in his weary yet unbowed style of drumming—a little behind the beat, as if life were always moving faster than he’d like.
Levon Helm is one of rock & roll's most indefatigable road warriors, a guy who would seemingly be happy to play every single night, but he's also a cancer survivor who is over 70 years old, and spending his days in a tour bus doubtless doesn't hold the sort of appeal it once did. Since 2004, Helm has been striking a compromise between his eagerness to perform and the rigors of touring with a series of shows he calls The Midnight Ramble, held at the recording studio located on the grounds of his home in Woodstock, New York. The Ramble shows feature Helm and his band playing with a handful of friends and guest artists each week, and the intimate gigs have been popular enough that Helm has been playing occasional Ramble-style concerts in larger venues in the United States and Europe.