Summer Fairs & Festivals in Hudson Valley, Upstate NY 2012
Summer’s in full swing, and the Valley is buzzing with events for all ages
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Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival, Croton-on-Hudson NY
The country’s oldest music and environmental festival has a lineup that “transcends musical boundaries and geographical borders,” according to Director Steve Lurie. The sustainably powered, two-day event at Croton Point Park has always presented big names from the folk world (it was, after all, founded by Pete Seeger); but this year the fest has a larger world-music selection, with international acts such as Tinariwen, Balkan Beat Box, Alsarah and the Nubatones, Bhi Bhiman, and Jose Conde Y Ola Fresca. Also confirmed are Ani DiFranco, Béla Fleck, Dawes, Donna the Buffalo, Martin Sexton, and Jay Ungar and Molly Mason (left), to name a few; Arlo Guthrie and the Guthrie Family play special sets in honor of Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday.
In addition to the festival’s mainstay attractions — the Arm of the Sea Theater, the famed sloop Clearwater, hands-on environmental education activities, a Crafts Showcase, and the Green Living Expo among them — families can enjoy the Traveling Musical Petting Zoo and an expanded Artisanal Food and Farm Market with even more Hudson Valley foods and specialty items. $56-$200, under 12 free; 845-236-5596 or www.clearwaterfestival.org
Mountain Jam artist spotlight: Amy Helm (Ollabelle)
Anyone who has had the pleasure of attending one of the late Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles — the intimate jam-style concerts held in his barn on Plochmann Lane in Woodstock — undoubtedly felt they had witnessed something magical. While the rock legend himself was a sight to see, and his musical guests were often legendary themselves, a big treat was watching him perform with his daughter, Amy Helm. The love, pride, and closeness between the two as they sang together was evidence of a musical legacy that transcends simple rock royalty status. Soulful, warm, and unself-conscious, Helm has been a member of her dad’s band for years (she sings and plays several instruments, most often the mandola), and is a founding member of roots-gospel band Ollabelle, which appears at this year’s Clearwater Festival (June 16-17) for the first time.
Born here in the Valley, Helm grew up between Woodstock, Los Angeles, and Manhattan, fairly oblivious to her father’s fame. “As far as I knew, my dad just played the drums in Rick Danko’s band,” she says. Although she sang and made music all her life, she took a few detours on her way to becoming a professional musician, among them studying psychology at a Wisconsin college. It wasn’t until she was in her 20s that she began actively pursuing a music career. In 1998 she joined the Barn Burners, a blues band her dad put together with some musicians from Poughkeepsie. “I crashed that band, much to their chagrin,” she laughs. Helm played with the Barn Burners for about four years, during which time she struggled with the same insecurities faced by any budding performer — with the added pressure of being a famous musician’s kid. “It’s an inevitable part of having a parent in the spotlight. But having played with him for so long in that teacher-student dynamic, that relationship became the focus: What can I learn from him, not just who am I apart from him. He was my most important teacher.”
Shortly after 9/11 Helm started participating in “Sunday School for Sinners,” an informal Sunday night jam session at a Lower East Side bar called 9C. “We all grabbed favorite hymns and songs and dug in there,” she says of herself and fellow musicians Glenn Patscha, Fiona McBain, Jimi Zhivago, Tony Leone, and Byron Isaacs. Eventually the collective’s jams became more structured, and very popular. They called themselves Ollabelle, for traditional country singer Ola Belle Reed. Producer Steve Rosenthal recorded them on spec, and sent the demo to famed producer T-Bone Burnett who ultimately produced the group’s first, self-titled album. “Just like that we were a band with a record deal out of the box,” Helm says. “It took an unexpected trajectory.”
Ollabelle has completed two studio albums since its debut — 2006’s Riverside Battle Songs and last year’s self-produced, self-financed Neon Blue Bird. The band began work on the latter in 2007 at a rented home in Athens, Greene County. The album took four years to complete, the process being delayed by the members’ various side projects, chief among them: babies. Helm, Patscha, and McBain (with Leone) all welcomed their first children within a year. “You don’t take a gig for granted anymore,” Helm confesses. “It’s an incredible feat, an incredible pleasure to leave the house for four hours to make a sound check and work on a song. It has a whole new weight to it when you’ve got little ones waiting for you and a baby-sitter on the clock. It has definitely made me appreciate the luxury of being able to lean into music that way.”
Helm has since welcomed a second son, and lives with her two boys and musician husband Jay Collins (a saxophonist with Gregg Allman and the Levon Helm Band) in Woodstock. The members of Ollabelle continue to tour together, as well as work on independent projects; Helm recently completed her first solo album. And she is still playing and touring as a member of her father’s band. “Now that I have children of my own, I realize in a deeper way how amazing it is to share that music with your parent,” she says. Does she have high hopes that her boys will follow in her family’s musical footsteps? “Well, yeah,” Helm admits. “But if they want to do something else, that’s okay, too.”
This interview was conducted prior to Levon Helm’s death on April 19, 2012. Click here to read about Mr. Helm’s life and legacy
» Next fest: West Point Band’s Music Under the Stars, West Point (June 17-Sept. 3)