Baltimore Blues Festival, Timonium, MD, 06.20.2004
Photos and text by Jonathan Katz.
Photos published on the web with permission from Levon Helm.
The kid in the photos below is Tyler Hough from Connellsville, PA. Levon has taken a special interest in mentoring Tyler because he has a great gift as a drummer, and Levon wants him to learn other instruments, including the guitar. See Tyler's web page at www.tylerhough.com for more info. about this talented kid.
When my friend Betty came into my office a while back to tell me that Levon would be the featured act at the Baltimore Blues Festival again this year, I did not think that I would be able to get there. Then I learned that he would be playing on Father's Day, which in my mind definitely put the kybosh on it. Leaving out all the details, I ended up there in time to catch the last part of T-Model Ford which was in a tent on the other side of the infield from where Levon would play. What I saw of the set had a revival feel to it; many were sitting and listening, but others were dancing and actively participating.
After a while I walked over to the stage where Levon would play. They were setting up and I noticed Levon's Saab parked to the right behind the stage. There were a few people around the car with video and still cameras, so I walked over.
Who was it that said something like "Levon is THE true gentleman in the music business?" When I got closer I saw Levon sitting in the drivers seat with a kid of about eight or nine in the passenger's seat. Levon was giving him music lessons on some kind of guitar-like instrument (didn't know what it was, so maybe I need some lessons!). What a sight! Levon worked with this little guy for at least a half an hour, and I don't know how long it was going on before I got there, and it went on after I left, too. And I mean he worked. He was putting the guy's fingers on the frets and showing him all kinds of things. At one point he matched up his hand with the kid's hand, maybe to explain why some part of the fretting was hard for him but easier for Levon, and to encourage the little guy. When the kid got something right, Levon was so genuinely enthusiastic that I was amazed.
After a little while some people started asking for autographs and pictures, and Levon happily obliged. As I've seen many times before, he hugged people and smiled, and it was all real. When someone came with a stack of things for him to sign, he signed a few, but then he said to the guy, "There'll be plenty of time for this later. I promise. But right now, if you don't mind, I want to give this guy some more time." The autograph seeker happily complied and Levon went back to the music lesson.
I snapped a few pictures of this with a cell phone camera, and have attached them. They're not the greatest pics, due to the quality of the camera, but they are better than I thought they would be. I kind of like the ones with the sun shining through. They give it a feel of divinity, as Levon passes on a musical heritage.
After a walk around the festival grounds I got back to the stage, which was about completely set up. Levon was making a few last adjustments to his kit, and everyone ambled up on stage. Then I noticed a few drums forming a little kit set up to Levon's right. And then Levon's pupil sat behind this little kit and played along for the first two or three songs! The guys played great. I'd never seen Little Sammy Davis before, and thoroughly enjoyed his singing and harmonica. They played, as you would guess, lots of blues, but they threw in some James Brown and Sam Cook. As a tribute to Ray Charles they did a blistering version of "What I Say" in which guitarist Pat O'Shea turned in a fantastic performance. Steve Guyger joined them on stage for most of the set, so there were dueling harmonicas throughout. The set was relatively short - but then again, whenever I see them play its never enough. But when it was all over I left happy as a clam, plotting to come back the next time disguised as an eight-year old in need of music lessons.