Amy Helm Bringing Her ‘Fierce’ Band To Headline Friday Arts Fest Opening
While singer-songwriter, band leader, and daughter of The Band co-founder Amy Helm confessed she is looking forward to a stretch of weeks off to relax and regroup after a very busy 2022, she admitted to be very much looking forward to visiting town to open the 2022 Newtown Arts Festival with a headline show at Edmond Town Hall Friday night.
Helm was last seen on stage in the area just a few weeks ago, dropping in to lend her unique, rootsy voice to a superstar lineup that the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh put together for one of his Phil & Friends shows at Bridgeport’s Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater. Helm took the stage just a couple of numbers into the set as welcoming applause greeted the surprise guest supporting Lesh and his friends for the night —Warren Haynes, John Modeski, John Scofield, and John Molo.
While her ETH show bandmates may not have the global recognition of her Phil & Friends cohorts, each is extremely talented, experienced and, according to Helm, quite capable of creating a barn burner of a time for Arts Festival and ETH Theatre supporters.
“Oh yes, I’ve got a fierce band — you’ve gotta let me brag on my band,” Helm related enthusiastically during a bright and early 9 am call to The Newtown Bee on Monday morning, September 12.
“These guys are fantastic, and I’ve been playing with them for a while,” she continued. “I’ve got Dan Littleton on guitar, Adam Minkoff on bass, and Tony Mason on the drums. These are superb players and we put a really good show together.”
Littleton actually dates back with Helm to her Midnight Ramble Band and her 2015 debut album, Didn’t It Rain, while Mason has been touring with her and contributed to Helm’s latest project, What The Flood Leaves Behind. Minkoff, who rounds out the backing trio also known as The Handsome Strangers, is a multi-instrumentalist from New York City who is proficient on bass, guitar, drums, keyboards, and vocals.
Minkoff has also performed live and on recordings with artists including Dweezil Zappa, Doyle Bramhall II, Sheryl Crow, Jim Keller, Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Machine, and Gregg Allman.
Surprises In Store
Helm said even a few days out that she was unsure of how she was going to structure the Newtown show, but committed to a set that featured about 75% of her own material from the aforementioned projects and her sophomore album, This Too Shall Light.
“I can promise that we will come prepared for anything,” she said laughing, “and I think I’ll try and sneak something in as a surprise — either a brand new song or a new cover. I’m just so excited to be coming down there. This will be one of the last [headliner] shows of the year before I settle down for a bit.”
And what a year it’s been.
Helm has toured with Little Feat as both opener and a special guest at their PBS special, Waiting for Columbus Live at The Ryman; opened for Mavis Staples; joined Lesh for a run of dates besides the Bridgeport show; and joined Steve Earle as a songwriting guest at Camp Copperhead, a three-day songwriting camp in upstate New York.
Besides her final headline show for the year coming up in Maryland, Helm said she is looking ahead to being there for Tedeschi Trucks Band on opening night of their next iconic Beacon Theatre run in New York City later this month.
And while she may be “relaxing,” she won’t quit her other day job — operating Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, N.Y., the town she calls home. Helm said that studio — home to some of the most memorable “Midnight Ramble” jam session shows over the past years including Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello, Grace Potter, and The Black Crowes — is in the process of expanding its lineup of intimate concerts.
Reflecting on her recent set with Lesh, Helm said sitting in with Haynes, Molo, Medesky, and Scofield was “inspiring.”
“Warren had sat in with the ramble a few times, but I don’t think I ever got to lean into some harmonies with him the way we did at that [Bridgeport] show, especially on [the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter tune] ‘Black Muddy River.’ I really loved getting to experience that, it was really cool.”
It was also surprising to learn that Helm, who one might imagine was organically schooled in songwriting by so many of the greatest talents by proximity over the past 40-plus years, only stepped up to the head of the class just a couple of weeks ago to help teach songwriters on the invitation of Steve Earle.
“I’ve done some one-on-one vocal workshops with younger people here in the Woodstock community, and I’ve done similar workshops over the past two summers with Oteil Burbridge [of The Allman Brothers Band, TTB, and Dead & Co], but this was the first time I was ever asked to teach songwriting,” she shared.
“It was a challenge because I never considered myself far enough along in the process to be extending any real wisdom to anybody else, so I chose a series of questions that prompted folks to talk about how we get blocked and how we can untie those knots as songwriters,” she recalled, “and how we can take that initial decent of a good idea to an actual finished song.
“These were just some of the questions I have asked myself, and trying to figure out where my procrastination comes from,” she added. “I really enjoyed being part of that.”
When asked about the last time a mental block became unstuck, Helm had to chuckle before responding: “I would say just yesterday I discovered a chord change that was better than the first one I wrote. So that was the last time, and I was pretty thrilled about that!”
Tickets for Friday night’s concert at Edmond Town Hall, 45 Main Street, are $40 and include a pre-show cocktail reception (cash bar). Doors open at 5, and opener Elle Sera is scheduled to begin her set at 7. Tickets are available through edmondtownhall.org and newtownartsfestival.com.
Editor John Voket can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out Amy Helm with Phil & Friends performing "Black Muddy River" July 1 at Bridgeport's Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater:
Amy Helm and her band play her song "Rescue Me" at a Brooklyn, NY gig on May 20, 2022: