Amy Helm Looks to Soak Up the Festival Experience at Big Noise

Amy Helm

Amy Helm has plenty of live performance experience to draw from over the years. As the daughter of The Band’s legendary drummer Levon Helm and lead vocalist for folk group Ollabelle, she’s seen and heard it all. But playing any festival, she says, is an osmotic experience she always relishes.

“Festivals are fun because, as a musician, you get to connect with other players, watch their sets and get inside the community feel of the whole thing,” Helm says. “Each festival has a different vibe and tone, and the audience usually sets it. It’s fun to dig into that, hang out, and absorb the whole community through osmosis.”

Although billed as a solo artist, Helm will have her familiar accompaniment of Handsome Strangers at David Bromberg’s Big Noise Festival. The backing musicians she’s performed with for years, however, are now a rotating cast of pros the New Yorker compares to shifting sands.

“The Handsome Strangers, as a band, has turned to into a set of chairs with three or four spectacular rotating musicians; but no matter who is on stage, they kick ass,” Helm says. “This time I’ll have Tony Mason (drums), Zach Djanikian (bass), Todd Caldwell (organ) and Mark Marshall (guitar) with me, so it should be fun to see what we come up with.”

Even Bromberg himself is looking forward to Helm’s performance on June 9 at Tubman-Garrett Park in Wilmington. Helm has sung back-up for Bromberg in the past, and the festival host has always been a fan of Helm’s former group, Ollabelle, even once attending the group’s show at Arden Gild Hall.

“I was crazy about that band, and when they played Arden, I was able to sit in and we had a ball,” Bromberg says. “It’s less likely that will happen this time around, because Amy has a much more structured thing going on; but ya never what might happen at the festival.”

Helm calls Bromberg “a fantastic player and a generous spirit,” and says that while Ollabelle is on a long sabbatical (due to everyone “getting busy and having babies”), she hopes fans will enjoy the set list she’s working on. She says her music will include a few covers from The Band and Levon Helm & the Hawks, as well as tracks from a new album set to be released in September.

The Woodstock native plans on singing crowd favorite “Rescue Me,” which features a quicker tempo live than that of the studio recorded version from Audiotree Live. (Check out the YouTube performance from the Telluride Blues Festival for a good example.) Helm says it’s one of her favorite songs to perform for a live audience, and may even include a slide arrangement.

“We definitely play it differently live, and I think that’s one of the most enjoyable things about touring: you can take a song and watch the musicians you’re playing with shift and change it,” Helm says. “To be able to take a song and recreate it, depending on what the drummer might do, or how the bass player catches it, really makes it a collaborative experience.”

Helm and her band are scheduled to take the stage at Big Noise on Saturday, June 9th.

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