Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ACL Explains It All: Levon Helm and the Band

June 1, 2009

So, there’s a neat feature at the ACL site that allows you to track (Via Facebook) how many people have added a particular band to their list of shows they want to see. I, amused, set about seeing who was the least popular band added to the festival (I am slightly morbid, I guess). While on this quest, I came across the fact that I had no clue who the Levon Helm Band was, even though they were a second-tier headliner. Apparently no one else did either, because hardly anyone had added them to their list of shows to see, and Levon Helm’s Myspace has only four thousand plays, which is ten times less than many high school punk bands that break up to head to college.

So who is Levon Helm, and why is he a second-tier headliner? After some research (we all know what that means), I found that Levon Helm used to be the drummer /songwriter for The Band (quite possibly the most pretentious band name in history). The Band is no more, but Levon Helm has his own show, and he’s riding out his success in this manner.

This hacks me off. No one wants to see Levon Helm; those who are going to this show actually want to see The Band. Yes, they will be playing the Band’s songs, but at this point, that’s not the Band performing the songs. That’s one member of the Band. It bugs me that he would get such a high spot on the concert list. I suppose that, considering ACL’s roots, this is not an odd choice. It does have a strong roots/country influence.

But seriously, when Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, and the Beastie Boys are your headliners, it simply silly to put one fraction of a great broken-up band up on stage covering great songs. I respect the fact that Levon Helm wants to keep playing music, and he has every right to the Band’s music (although Robbie Robertson might disagree); I just question why a festival that has clearly dropped its commitment to roots music placed one fifth of a band that was more critically acclaimed than actually liked while they were in their prime forty years ago as a headliner. It just seems ridiculous.

Basically, I have no problem with Levon Helm; may it not be said that I’m against him in this situation. I’m more against ACL’s confusion over what it wants to be. In fact, I feel for Levon Helm; he’s in the first generation of artists that are getting really old. The Stones, Dylan, Aerosmith, The Band, The Who….all those guys are sixty now. The first real rock’n’roll was made by them, and now they’re stuck in the lurch. Is there an age limit on rocking? Can a twenty-two year old go to a show by a guy two and a half times as old as him and see it the same way he sees a twenty-year old rocking? Our American problem with aging is hitting rock and roll; our solution seems to be that we let the reunion tours roll, and the old fans can have it.

But Levon Helm is in a different situation here. He’s not going to be playing to reunion tour fans; he’s going to be playing to hipsters who like !!!, Bon Iver and Arctic Monkeys. He’s confronting the problem head on. Seeing as you have to go down four lines of bands to find a band that has less attendees than Levon Helm, and the band directly behind him has four times as many confirmed attendees, it doesn’t seem to be working out.

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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