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Levon at the Helm

A Note from Peyton’s Management Team:


It’s been less than two weeks since we lost Levon Helm, and what follows below is a blog from Peyton about the day he opened for and met Levon.  We hope you’ll enjoy – but more importantly – that the incredible memory of Levon will live on.

On a closing note – Boston-based fans!  Peyton is making the trek up from Charlottesville to open for one of the best New England singer songwriters,  Mark Erelli THIS Saturday, May 5th at the historic Harvard Square venue,  Passim.  Tickets are still available, so get them while they last!  Mark will be joined by Charlie Rose on banjo and pedal steel.  Show starts at 8pm.

Ticket link: Passim Tickets!

– Ralph Jaccodine Management

Levon at the Helm

On September 14, 2008 I got to open for Levon Helm at The Paramount Theater in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.  Of course I got to meet him.  I am not going to profess that we hit it off in some big way, or that we became friends, or even that he ever remembered our encounter backstage.  It was a quick meeting, by chance really.  But I will never forget it as that memory has bored itself so deeply into my soul that it has become a part of my musical foundation upon which I rest all songs, all tunes, and all moments of my musical life.  It was a strange meeting, just the two of us in a stairwell staring at each other.   But I’ll get to that in a bit.

The whole thing really started the day before.  My friend and band mate Darrell Muller was getting married just out in the countryside near Charlottesville.  It was the beginning of Autumn and Autumn in Virginia is, for my money, the best time of year.    The leaves had begun to turn; the grass was vibrant and green.  The sky, postcard blue.  The day was absolutely perfect and beautiful.  His bride was even more so.   It was a day of celebration as my friend began his new life with his soon to be wife.   And yes, in the back of my mind I also kept thinking about the fact that he and I, the next day would be playing with one of rock and roll’s most appreciated and maybe most respected drummers of all time: Levon Helm.  Selfish I guess, but it’s Levon Helm.   Let’s be honest here.  Weddings and cake and flowers, or Levon Helm?   I think we have a winner.

If you’re from the south and you’re a songwriter and musician like me, there are only a handful of folks you REALLY aspire to follow in the footsteps of.   One of them is most assuredly Levon Helm.   So Darrell, Sam (Wilson – he ended up producing ‘A NEW WORLD’) and I get to the Paramount for load in.  Levon’s band is already set up and gone.  We get our ten minute sound check and we are shuffled off as doors are to open in ten minutes.  We go downstairs to do what we always do between doors and show time: change strings, change clothes, change mindsets.  Whatever.   No Levon.  I keep an eye out.  I eat.  No Levon.  I watch some TV.  No Levon.   I ask Darrell if he intended to wear the suit on stage that he was wearing last night at his wedding.   Yes, he said.  I looked around.  No Levon.

Well, so be it.  I had a job to do.  It was time for our set, so on we went.  The theater was sold out and the crowd was so anxious for Mr. Helm that they erupted in applause as we plugged in.   There were so many people I could only get a few guest list passes.  Two for my parents and two for my friend Kara who brought our friend Coran Capshaw.  Coran is a big time manager and if I would have known that she was bringing him, I might have tried to get them better seats.  So as it stood, they had to sit in the back row ‘cause I’m the damn opener and we never get good comps.  Sorry, Kara.  Sorry, Coran.  But, whatever.  My folks were there.  My dad used to put on The Band records when I was a kid…  And now we’re all under the same roof.

So we play.  We’re so jazzed by the wedding and the fact that now we are on stage opening for Levon Helm, and the show goes great.  Darrell and Sam play their asses off and the crowd goes nuts as we finish our last song and off we go.  Darrell and Sam make their way offstage and down to the dressing rooms.  But I remember I have to get my little amp off stage before they come on, so I run back on to get it.  No big deal.  And then I make my way downstairs.

The stairs in the Paramount are skinny.  Too skinny for two people to walk shoulder to shoulder.   But I’m the only one on them so I kind of skip down toward the dressing room in a very not-so-manly cool way.  I’m excited.  What do you want me to do?  And then one by one the band turns the corner too, and walks up the stairs.   I turn and put my back to the wall to let them pass.  And one by one they do.  Holy shit.  There’s Larry Campbell.  He nods and says, ‘well done’, and continues his walk to the stage.  Larry Campbell. We’re talking Dylan, B.B. King, Willie.  And one by one they go to do their job.  And then Levon turns the corner.   I stand with my back against the wall.  Frozen .  Trying not to look at him too awkwardly.  He might be one of those weird guys with the pre-show ritual that can’t be disturbed before he takes the stage so I just stay still and let him pass.  And he does.  And I continue down the stairs.  And right before I get to the bottom I hear a voice.

“Hey.  I’m Levon.”

I turn.

“Hey.  I’m Peyton.”

I can barely see him in that there is a light behind him so I’m kind of just getting his silhouette.

“That was a fine set of music.  One of the finest I’ve heard in a while” he says.

My eyes adjust.  We’re staring at each other.  He has this great huge smile, and he’s kind of hunched over a bit, but his chin is up and he’s just smiling at me.

“Thank you, sir.”

He nodded, and then off he went.  And off I went to.  But I didn’t skip.  I walked.  Slowly.  Very slowly.   I wasn’t childishly excited anymore.  I had just gotten a compliment from one of the greatest voices in Rock and Roll history.   And then I walked to the dressing room because my job was done for the day.  Time to go out and see the show.  Time to see why everyone was there that night.  Time to see Levon Helm the way we all remember him.

That was it.   The two of us staring at each other, a few words and that was it.  Fitting that he was at the top of the stairs and I was at the bottom.  He has, after all, climbed the hell out of the music mountain.  And me, I was and still am just starting to climb.  And who knows if I’ll ever get past base camp.   But I stood, somewhat face to face, with a living legend.   The living legend.  Levon Helm.  And now he has passed on.  But he will always live in this world.   His music.  His legacy.  And he couldn’t possibly know how many people he effected with his life because there have been, frankly, too many for him to keep track of.   He said two sentences to me in a stairwell and I’m forever changed.  Shit.  I’ll never stop playing now.  After all, if Levon likes your set,  you best keep climbing.

– Peyton

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Apr 30
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