24 Hours with The Band
by Jamie GreenPhotos and travel report from a trip the Baltimore, MD band Yesterday's News (Mike, Jamie, Eddie, and Dave) did to the Woodstock area in March 2003, to see Garth Hudson and Big Pink.
"People, people, where do you go before you believe in what you know?"
I never had the opportunity to see The Band live. The Last Waltz happened five years before I was born. Even when The Band reformed and came to Hammerjack's, Baltimore legendary rock club, in 1994, I was too young to attend. Since Rick Danko's unfortunate passing in 1998, I have figured that I would never be able to see or meet any members of the group that changed my life.
Mike Koehler, the drummer in my band Yesterday's News suggested one day that we visit Woodstock, and see some of the sites that have become notorious in the circle of Band folklore. When we read that Garth Hudson would be performing with his wife Maud at the intimate Colony Café in March of 2003, we decided to make the trip.
Our band-mates, and fellow Band fans, Eddie Lehwald (keyboards) and Dave Chrismer (bass) came along, as did Mike's girlfriend Krissy and my girlfriend Kerry. As our friends headed for the glamorous hullabaloo of Spring Break Florida, we boogied up to the Catskills for Garth, Maud, Big Pink, Overlook Mountain, and whatever else we came across.
We stayed at my grandparents house in the Pocono's the night before, to make more room for time in Woodstock. We arrived in Woodstock on Saturday morning from rt. 375. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a golf course just outside of town. We were hungry so we all went in different directions in search of food. I knew that I was in for a wild day when I approached a Janis Joplin-meets-Mama Cass type and asked her where I could find "the oldest food joint in town." After several minutes of pondering, she suggested I go to Maria's, and pointed me down the street and beyond the Village Green. This was strange, because we were standing directly outside of Maria's at the time. It was at this point that I figured I should expect anything.
After agreeing on Capone's Deli, Eddie saw a man giving away kittens out of a box. Even more bizarre. Eddie was going to get one and name it "Woodstock" or something along those lines, but he couldn't work out the logistics. Enough kitty stuff, off to Big Pink!
As you can see, there was a decent amount of snow on the ground, so the drive down Parnassas Lane was a little rough. The feeling was not of tourism, more like how I'd expect how a Muslim would feel on his first visit to Mecca. Just beyond a break in the trees, as though the road was built for people to drive to a famous house, stood Big Pink.
To say that Mike, Eddie, and Kerry flipped out would be quite an understatement. I think Dave was impressed by the atmosphere, and Krissy enjoyed the view. I wanted to move in the next day. There were a few cars in the parking pad, and we figured someone might be home and wouldn't necessarily appreciate six goofballs looking at his house. Eddie and I got the courage to knock on the door and ask if it was ok to take a few photos. No one was home, so we took that as a go-ahead. We tried to imitate Levon's book cover shot in the backyard, and is the cover shot on our first album. From left to right that's Mike, Jamie (me), Eddie and Dave.
Looking back, visiting Big Pink first was a big mistake. Up until Garth's show, everything else was secondary. We drove down Zena Rd. to John Joy Rd. to see if we could find the trail used for the Brown Album cover shot. We didn't, but we took some fun shots on that open field with our buddy Overlook Mountain in the background. After we threw some snowballs with the intensity of a Richard Manuel vocal, we headed back into town to kill some time before the show.
We were the first bodies inside the Colony Café in preparation for Garth and Maud and we took the six seats directly in front of the piano. We got to meet the great Dave Z who himself was on sabbatical. Richard Wall embraced us and told us all sorts of great stories about Garth and others. Soon, Band fans were coming at us left and right, and we forgot where we were and why we were there.
To say that Garth was a little late would probably be an understatement. He walked in around 10:00, a few hours after the scheduled time. Did we care? No way, there was Garth Hudson! Garth and Maud took a few minutes to settle in, and it soon felt like we were in their living room. Garth and Maud played some music and told some stories. We were all surprised at Garth's sense of humor and ability to crack up the crowd. Maud had called "Five Dollar Fine" the theme song for Ronnie Hawkins. Garth would echo each line Maud sang, and everyone loved it. Maud sounded awesome on "Youngblood," and "Blind Willie McTell" was savagely good. When they played "It Makes no Difference," I got the feeling everyone in the place was thinking of Rick. Garth threw in several improved "Garthisms," his mix of classical, blues, jazz, ragtime, rockabilly, ska, disco, punk, and god only knows what else. Mike, Dave, Eddie and I got a kick out it when Garth gave a demonstration about how to edit music with pro-tools.
After the show ended, Richard - possibly the nicest man in the world - introduced us to Garth, telling him how we had come all the way from Baltimore. He soon got bombarded with people, understandably. Richard told us to stick around because "the good stuff happens later." We trusted him, so as people left the Colony Café, we stuck around and talked with some other Band fans. Kerry introduced herself to Maud, and Maud really took to her. She spoke with all of us for a long while. I'll never forget the look on her face when she discovered that I was a song-writing guitar player named Jamie. Richard asked us to play a song, so Eddie sat down at the piano. With his fingers shaking like a belly dancer, Eddie ripped off a great solo "Stage Fright" while about fifteen people sang along.
Maud then asked Kerry if we wanted to "wine and dine" with them later. At this point, we were just thrilled about the whole day. To hear that they were going out to eat and that we were invited knocked us over. It was around 1:00 am by this point. We had gotten up at 6:00 am. I suppose we should've been tired, but we weren't. Maud and Garth gave us directions to a diner in Kingston. Eddie and I joked that they gave us directions to some place that didn't exist, and it was just their way of getting us out of their way so they could go home to sleep.
We got there and saw Dave Z chugging down coffee with some other Band fans. Sure enough, about five minutes later Garth, Maud, Richard and a few others who's names I can't remember showed up. We pushed the tables together and ate until about 3:00 am! Maud told us some great stories while Garth entertained a couple from Buffalo who we unfortunately didn't really meet. At that time, we were all dead tired, but then Garth started to embrace us. He said that there's two things that, being in a band, we should always remember: Never fall in love with a piece of real estate, and always stay packed. Eddie really related to him since he's our keyboard player. They talked about accordions and synthesizers. Dave asked him about recording with Mercury Rev, and Garth told him to always get a copy of your DAT. At about 4:15 am, we finally split. Everyone was concerned that we wouldn't make it back to the Pocono's, but I had no worries. I drove Kerry's car since I was on such a high. We pulled into my grandparents driveway exactly at 6:00 am, 24 hours after waking up. I like to call our trip 24 straight hours with The Band. Think that's not a long time to spend on a single band? Try spending on Ten Years After.
The trip was mind-blowing, and we advise anyone who hasn't done it to make plans. We were Band experts before the trip, but now all those people who we have heard and read about have come to life. If we could only find a way to rent Big Pink....