Of course The Band was a huge influence on Phish and many other bands. But Levon’s own musical career is just so inspiring…. from wanting to leave the Bob Dylan scene in the 60s despite all the success around it in order to follow his own musical tastes to the incredible Midnight Rambles of recent years. I was lucky enough to go to four of the Rambles and play at one, and these were life changing experiences. Jon Fishman called home from the parking lot after the first one I went to, saying it was a top musical experience of his life.
I’ve always thought music can exist so perfectly when churning in the confines of a barn, and this took it to an extreme where American culture was simply bubbling over with authenticity, passion, and a connection to the backwoods and the hills. It’s a testament that ten or fifteen incredible (and notable) musicians came through each time to make up and enhance this house band (not to mention the incredible opening bands). In the middle of the barn, with his deep seventy year old smile, Levon’s uniquely spare yet fierce drumming propelled a repertoire through these enchanted nights. Folk, bluegrass, and country blended effortlessly with blues, soul, and funk, creating a melting pot of sounds unique to our country. And despite battles with throat cancer, Levon would grab the mic and sing so powerfully that it shook the beams of his old barn-home to the core.
To do a few cool things when someone’s young is one thing, but then to grow older and cultivate such a heartfelt and moving musical situation is very inspiring. It’s no wonder so many artists are influenced by his sound, his sensibility, and his projects with their own pursuits. This is a huge loss, and I’m sorry for anyone who couldn’t experience that magic first hand, and I’m thankful that our country and our musical community was lucky enough to be graced by such a soul – Mike Gordon