Blues/folk artist Amy Helm to play headlining set at Briggs Farm Blues Fest
Amy Helm, Briggs Farm Blues Festival’s headliner on Saturday, July 7, is an Americana blues/folk singer-songwriter who’s been schooled by the masters.
She is the daughter of the late Levon Helm, of The Band, and worked with him on various music projects for a decade before he died in 2012, including his Grammy Award-winning “Dirt Farmer” comeback album in 2007.
Her mother is singer-songwriter Libby Titus, and her stepfather is Donald Fagen, co-founder of Steely Dan. She knows New Orleans piano player Dr. John and has rubbed elbows with professionals from many genres.
Helm also has been a road-warrior musician most of her adult life. She was a member of the New York-based, alt-country band Ollabelle for a decade. She helped her father run his Midnight Ramble music venue in Woodstock and has kept company with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees since she was a child. She went solo a few years ago and released her critically acclaimed, “Didn’t It Rain” album in 2015.
While Levon is remembered for his distinctive vocals in “The Last Waltz” music documentary, his 47-year-old daughter is taking her first waltz as a solo player backed by a seasoned team of rotating musicians called The Handsome Strangers.
“I’ve got an incredible cast of musicians I’ve been playing with over the past year, and I feel honored and excited to take any stage and do any gig with them,” said Helm from her home in Woodstock, N.Y. “So it should be a good strong band.”
She and the band have a new album coming out in September. While her first solo album was recorded and reworked over a period of years at Levon’s Barn studio/performance venue in Woodstock, the new work was recorded in four days in Los Angeles. Striving for a live concert sound, Helm said no vocals were redubbed, which she said gives the album a more honest sound.
Life for a musician who must tour regularly — especially one with a famous father who was part of musical history — is not easy. Sure, Helm said, it opens doors, but there are also challenges that a musician with two young boys routinely faces.
Here are Helm’s reflections on her life now.
Motherhood and touring: “When I started to go out on the road to begin building a solo career, they (her boys) were really tiny, so I had not been able to tour in a more standard way in terms of time. Usually, we would try to book a three-and-a-half-week tour, but I haven’t been able to do that,” she said. “I try not to leave home for more than 10 days or two weeks. … Of course, I take them out (on the road) with me in the summer when I can, and they love that.”
Woodstock landmark: She and her stepmother still operate The Barn, part of Levon’s legendary Midnight Ramble. “It is a straight-up music venue. We just had John Prine play there. … It means so much to me to have the walls fill up with great music, and it’s so important to support live music of every genre and to stay open and to keep musicians working. I try to do that in my own life as much as I can by supporting musicians and getting inspired by people who are playing.”
What dad would say: “I am sure he would be happy, and I’m sure he would tell me to ask for more money. He was a great advocate for musicians. If it was me or anybody else who would tell him what they are doing or where they were playing, he would always say ‘go and make them pay you more.’ He could have run the union for musicians. He was a great supporter of all working musicians.”
Helm and The Handsome Strangers take the Main Stage at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 7.