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Do Your Duty (video)

“Do Your Duty” performed by Tuba Skinny on June 19, 2010 at the Mower’s Flea Market on a beautiful afternoon in Woodstock, NY

On that day, their beautiful music was a beautiful treat for our ears.

Who is Tuba Skinny?

Formed in in 2009, Tuba Skinny has steadily evolved from a loose collection of street musicians into a solid ensemble dedicated to bringing the traditional New Orleans sound to audiences around the world. Drawing on a wide range of musical influences—from spirituals to Depression-era blues, from ragtime to traditional jazz—their sound evokes the rich musical heritage of their New Orleans home. The band has gained a loyal following through their distinctive sound, their commitment to reviving long-lost songs, and their barnstorming live performances.


Feature Photo by Sarrah Danziger
Video by Lynda Herbeck

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Secret Youth: The Early ’90s Woodstock Rock Scene

The unsung 90’s scene in Woodstock was the best in my opinion, but there’s always hope for the next generation, right?


My O.G. Woodstock friend Oriana Fine texted me “Flower Punx Forever” the other day. It made me think of how the 90’s hippie, rap and punk kids in Woodstock were the children of hippies who stuck around and still believed, or from families with that 80’s cash who settled due to the beautiful properties, the Monastery, or because they wanted an arts community. Irony is, as property values (they want it quiet around town) and tourism increased, the local music scene has often been choked out.

Many came or remain here because it seems a more rational choice than much of America, but boy did some of their kids act “irrational” (even by 60’s standards). At the same time, the grunge movement in Seattle and Nirvana had taught me (a lifelong closeted bisexual/empath/manic depressive) that DIY and building our own scene was the way to go. Clubs were mainly showing reggae bands or WDST acoustic type acts, which was more than fine. There were some great acts in those scenes/genres, but we were all usually much louder. After all, the members of D.C./NYC hardcore and reggae legends Bad Brains settled in our backyard raising families, so we wanted that black dots punk rock with social messages at the forefront, not just reggae.

There was a thick blend of funk and prog mish mash in the rock of bands like Three, Oblivion Grin, Conehead Buddha, Blissfully Ignorant, or a bundle of ska mischief via Valley legends Perfect Thyroid (my first “local” band show ever). Dark psych rock and poetic vibes flowed into town from Palenville via Simone Felice’s many projects (grown more rustic-minded over time) or the untouchable shrooms-infused deep psych post-hardcore/alternative rock of Dripping Goss and Spin Cycle Lava. All of this made it a blender of possibility for anyone willing to get out there and put shows together, despite fliers always getting ripped down.

Flier for a Woodstock concert in the 90’s
90’s advertisement for Joyous Lake concert

Bearsville Theater puts on great shows today, but it’s not the same as Joyous Lake, Tinker Street Cafe and the Youth Center shows I usually booked. It was an amazing time for bands from as far as NYC, Nyack, New Paltz or closer, like Kingston and Woodstock, all cross pollinating. No cell phones. Word of mouth and positive intent. It birthed bands like Three, Coheed & Cambria, and Pitchfork Militia (who, 20 years later, still gig constantly and deserve more respect). Nowadays you have a lot of well-meaning Brooklyn bands trying to sound like The Band, but us non-transplants still inhabit Levon’s real backyard.

Josh Eppard’s final show with 3

It was a time when The Jesus Lizard, Public Enemy and Fugazi got as much headphones time as Neil Young, Wu Tang, Stevie Wonder, Pearl Jam, RHCP, The Smashing Pumpkins, Melvins, Stooges, Notorious B.I.G., Black Flag, Operation Ivy, Bikini Kill, Jane’s Addiction, Sublime, Acid Bath, or Ani Difranco, plus we also still believed the answer was blowin’ in the wind. You just had to find that fucker and make him talk. And we were all making our own music while we looked for those answers.

I remember my old drummer Pat Howland playing me Bad Brains’ God Of Love album and how it changed our world! And we could ask Dr. Know all about it in person (because he also worked with Pat at a local farmstand)!

Pat Howland, drummer for Melancholy

People today are really uninformed about this 90’s scene on a national level, because no one (even the artists who were there) talks about it as much as the 60’s, or they just don’t know the facts. Local bands were even recording at Bearsville Studios (ahem … my early bands Melancholy and Fuse) and playing shows to packed houses every weekend. Girls were a big part of the scene, though not as many performed in the bands, which would have been cooler. There were a lot of kids who also died (R.I.P. Jason Foster of Lunch Meat, Pat Howland of Melancholy and others). The harder edge meant harder drugs, some of which haunted members of Coheed and Cambria all the way to the national stage (and oh yeah, Cambria is my sister’s name).

Claudio Sanchez and Mic Todd of Shabutie (Coheed and Cambria)

I battled with hard drugs from age 15-20 but never have used them since, though struggled with booze until a few years back. That’s not exaggeration. I was shooting up speedballs or taking acid every day at an age when some kids’ balls haven’t dropped.

Folk anarchist John The Baker (Uncle of Josh and Joey Eppard) won a $20,000 censorship lawsuit against town police for being arrested singing on The Green in Woodstock about cops sleeping with underage girls. He used the money to put out the album by his band, Slimy Penis Breath (with art of a pig-faced cop eating a literal dick) and mailed it to all the police stations. Former Slimy Penis Breath bassist Jason Christopher is now in metal legends Prong and has played with Corey Taylor of Slipknot.

Woodstock girls

We held pro-choice benefits and built our own skatepark with money kids raised, and then got shut out from doing shows at the Youth Center by a bed and breakfast with noise complaints (fuck you, still). Somehow, I was able to book Three, Melancholy and a drunk punk band Hauler in the Town Hall opposite Police Dispatch. Crazy fuckin’ times. I’m so glad most of us are still here to sing about it. PMA 24/7 everyday, always.

Here’s some reflections from some of the people who were there.

Ian Thomas (current Mearth and 4 Gun Ridge guitarist, ex-Hauler, ex-Melancholy):

“I rolled up in my sweet minivan with our gear and some friends to the Town Hall.  As I pulled into what was basically a police parking lot I could see Hauler’s singer Tom crawling from our pal Ray’s car. Somehow, between New Paltz and Woodstock he got blind drunk. Such was the Hauler way. I remember thinking we’d get arrested walking in through what seemed like the police station. Maybe we made a wrong turn. Our set, if you could call it that, consisted of Tom knocking his amp over and howling into the mic. And myself and drummer Kev Sharp (now of Lara Hope’s band Tiger Piss) pushing through. Ridiculous, but the kids loved it for some reason. Those Woodstock shows were always a rip. Hauler, Melancholy, Mearth. It was damn fun back then. I loved having the chance to play for/with all of you guys and all the great bands. Tom’s amp was 2 radio shack PA cabs and an old Gibson PA head. Stacked up it was probably about 5 feet tall so when it fell, it fell with drama. Shit scattered like dominoes and shrapnel. He’d prop it up again, howling guitar feedback the whole time. Slam! Down it fell again. Kev and I furiously blasting through whatever we could play as if the entire spectacle was planned. Fucking hell.”

Kwame Gtb WiafeAkenten (rapper, proud father, former merch/security for Killswitch Engage and Coheed and Cambria):
Kwame with Daryl and Doc of Bad Brains
Kwame Gtb WiafeAkenten

“Looking back at that time, it’s like damn how amazing to be surrounded by such a broad mix of talent within a space that allowed bands to get together and play openly and for the kids that went to enjoy, a space to watch that magic. Such a special time and opportunity. I feel like that’s what’s missing now. I would hate to be a music loving kid these days. No place to get what we all got!”

Jeremy Swift (ex-Guava Lamp, current guitarist in GET OUT., The Beautiful Bastards):

“The area had a thriving music scene in the bars and clubs, but the kids were locked out, so they started a parallel scene developing whatever venues they could get their hands on. Within a year or so the youth scene was rivaling the bar scene and surpassing it in turnout. Some of the heavier adult  bands that had trouble getting booked in the more conservative and very competitive bar scene started playing the youth shows, and were embraced by larger, more enthusiastic audiences than they ever found in the bars. I remember playing to 400 kids at the Kingston YMCA, with a swirling pit at our feet.”

Nate Kelley (multi instrumentalist and ex-Shabutie, Coheed and Cambria, DIVEST, Pontius Pilate Sales Pitch, Moe & The Boogie Cats. Currently in The Widow Capet with his wife Deena):
Nate Kelley

“There was a ton of experimentation, both musically and chemically. There was an amazingly diverse set of bands in the area, particularly for such a small scene. There was a ton of healthy competition, especially among the drummers. And then there was me.”

Peter Head (Pitchfork Militia, guitar and vocals):

“When we first started out, we were actually making fun of country music. It hadn’t degenerated into the full blown pop music with a Southern accent and twangy guitar it is now, but it was still terrible corporate crap and we hated it. We wore cowboy hats and the biggest boots we could find because we thought it was so dumb … then we started liking it. But we had a punk rock attitude and the tempo was fast. We said naughty words, and generally had a lot of fun making fun of everything, including ourselves.”

Brian Goss (guitar The Noise, Simone Felice band, ex-Dripping Goss, Warzone, The Warm Jets):

“My favorite part of the scene back then was that all the bands were going in different musical directions, which to me was exciting. No one was trying to sound like the other bands, quite the opposite, we all kept pushing away, developing our own unique sound(s). It all came to a head at a show at Heartbreak Hotel. Dripping Goss, Shabutie, Peacebomb, Pacemaker, and a few others. That night was magical, and everyone knew and felt a part of something larger. People still bring that show up to me on the street.”

James Degrassi (Mearth, bass):

“There was such a strong sense of community and everyone that came out to the shows was so supportive of the bands.  Even 15+ years later, I still regularly meet people that would come to those Youth Center/Community Center shows and those people are just as supportive and friendly as they were back then.  High energy crowds that support local music.  What more could a band ask for?”

Godfrey Damrath (ex-Oblivion Grin, currently The Beautiful Bastards):

“Mostly it was making the music we wanted to hear and couldn’t find. It was easier to write a new Clash or Killing Joke song than wait for one. It wasn’t until the second record that we got self conscious about imitation – our first record is almost a K-tel sampler of us apeing the bands we loved.”

Mike Archdeacon (fan, Woodstock area lifer):

“The local music scene at that time was awe inspiring. I became totally immersed in town life. From shows at the community or youth centers, Tinker St. Cafe, the Joyous Lake to six band line ups at keg parties, we tore it up. Mosh pits, kinetic dancers of night, leave it all on the stage performances by the sickest bands. You said it best, Morgan, at the Tinker Street live WDST leap year recording of Melancholy: ‘Raw like a ham on the floor.’ RIP Pat Howland, drum solo expert and dear friend.”

Yours truly, Morgan Evans, 16 years old
Yours truly, Morgan Evans, 16 years old

Article by Morgan Y. Evans
Special thanks to Oriana Fine, Nicole Terpening, Laura Zimzores for photos/fliers

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Beware the Sidewalks

This is rolling Robin. You may know me from the Mower’s Flea Market. I’m going to guide you through a tour of Woodstock, written for people with disabilities, wheelies, and those with canes and walkers. These are my observations rolling through town.

A Tour Through Woodstock’s Shops and Streets for People with Disabilities

Contrary to popular opinion, riding and needing a power chair or scooter is not fun. Maybe you need to be close to someone with a disability to understand. I have been stopped by strangers on the street, all sorts of people, young and old, walking, huffing and puffing up that long hill coming into town, who say, “Wish I had one of those.” I always reply, “I am glad you don’t need one.” Being in a chair is something that can happen to anyone at any time.

Woodstock is a fun town, with beautiful views, filled with galleries, tasty exotic restaurants and fascinating shops, and has a rich history that precedes the Woodstock Festival. One can spend hours watching a multitude of parades, concerts, and people, such as the Greyhound buses, straight from New York City, unloading such interesting human cargo. While there is always something to do, if you have a disability, can you move around town and explore?

I rolled to town one day and wrote down all the places I could get into, get around, and get out of. I was surprised at how many I’ve actually been able to access. Some with ease, others take some ingenuity.

You’ll see many assorted shops coming into town. Many are inaccessible with steps, giant granite rocks, and entryways too small. I found if you want something and know what you want, and catch the proprietor’s eye, he might give you curb service if not too busy. I’ve done this with the flower shop (Juanita’s) in the middle of town. I have bought lovely plants there.

Most places have heavy winter doors, making it all that much harder to get into local businesses. Everyone is willing to help, and all you have to do is not get frustrated and ask for assistance. People here are nice, especially toward one crippled and in a wheeled chair. Yes, I know asking for help is embarrassing, but you’ll have to get over it. Asking always does work.

For those who are not trapped within an appliance like myself, who are asked for help by people with disabilities, the key word here is ASK. Do not go ahead and attempt to help someone if they haven’t requested it. I have had people do all the wrong things in an honest attempt to help me. For instance, I once turned over the scooter by Maria’s. Instead of stopping for a second, asking me what I needed, they tried to pull me out by tugging on both my arms and legs. Not cool.

If asked, I would have said, “The Machine! Get it off me first!” Then again, there was a mass of good-deed doing fellows who took the scooter on a wild spin at Catskill Mountain Pizza (which is accessible with a nice front yard). They all mean well. But again, if I had been asked, the scooter would not have wiped out tables.

I have learned to kindly say, “Back off.” Because really, only I know what I need. Unless I don’t, then I get to ask you. But I digress.

Landau Grill

Next to the Landau is a tiny mini-mall where the Woodstock Emporium has affordable classic Woodstock tie-dye T-shirts, wind chimes and a Christmas shop during all seasons. A new shoe store sits next to this, Soul Mates, carrying upscale clothes and shoes. Both are accessible, but tight, spaces.

The Woodstock Emporium and Soulmates

Across the street, Bread Alone sits on the corner. And it really is more than just bread. Along with fine almond croissants and yummy sandwiches, there’s good strong coffee or healthy juice to wash it down, and there is ambiance! A back door will give you an escape route should the store get fully loaded, easing that feeling of being trapped.

Bread Alone outdoor area

Down the hill on Rt. 212 is Not Fade Away, which used to be Joyous Lake. This shop has a wonderful functional ramp. For many years, this rocked as a popular night club. Now, Not Fade Away sells stuff that keeps Woodstock smoking. It’s also packed with Woodstock icons, collectibles and fashions. Also, as you might have noticed, there is a wide porch with a view of incoming traffic, an entertaining people-watching spot.

Not Fade Away with ramp

Using the back roads behind Not Fade Away is an alternative route you can take to the Village Green, which is a small patch of what used to be grass until they “fixed it.” The grass got trampled and mostly died, so it was replaced with stone. With benches to rest on, in front of the Dutch Reform Church (also very accessible), this is the site of many demonstrations for noble causes.

There are usually musicians set up on the Green, practically on every corner, with cases wide open for change. Father Woodstock sets up his crate, giving the peace sign to all who enter this sacred town. Women in Black for Peace stand vigil on Sunday mornings, rain or shine. This is where the dogs are judged in all their finery,  where the Halloween parade runs through, and Santa Claus comes in on so many sleighs in so many ways. A weekly drumming circle meets here every Sunday offering a drum to anyone with rhythm. And it’s another good people-watching spot.

Across the way, Oriole Nine offers organic food that tastes good and is good for you. They sell gourmet coffee with cappuccino art. Evidently, they make art in the foam of your coffee. A wide hallway welcomes you with posters of town events.

Oriole 9

A little further down Tinker Street is Joshua’s Cafe, a cozy restaurant that offers Middle Eastern fare. The staff is very accommodating and will always find you space. A lovely front window provides a view of the other edge of town. This was the first place I ever had pita bread served with a meal, and good spinach soup. Don’t miss their zucchini pancakes, artichoke mash, or their famous smorgasbord to fill you up. The upper level offers live music, but I would never attempt climbing the stairs.

Joshua’s Cafe

Across from Joshua’s is the Byrdcliffe Gallery, totally accessible, named after one of the founders of this arts colony. Many incredible artists live here and show their work in this gallery. In Woodstock, the artist is revered.

In May, the fabulous Mower’s Flea Market opens just down the lane from Bread Alone, close to the Houst parking lot.

I get along quite well at the flea market, rolling in the small open grassy yard about the size of a city block. So does Kim, a vendor who is also in a power chair. People in manual chairs may require a strong pusher. Beware the mulch type substance John uses after it rains, as this field gets muddy.

When you’re disabled and in a chair, you’re often dismissed. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 38. Yes, I am one of those – I don’t look disabled, though I will be 57 soon. I’ve been a member of the differently-abled club for a while now, lumped with the elderly and equally disenfranchised. Living in Woodstock since 2002, my 3-wheel scooter is my only transportation, and I get around. I live close enough tot own that I can scoot there regularly.

Fortunately, right before I moved here from Maine, Woodstock, blessed village, invested in new sidewalks from the post office to the edge of town.

The town is set in the mountains, and Woodstock, like many northern towns, is subject to frost heaves in the winter. This geologic phenomenon happens when it’s cold and the soil heaves up. This means that the sidewalks are bumpy and broken with high curbs. Beware for those who must rely on canes! Even those without, you might trip.

While the law says that ramps must be installed at businesses, it doesn’t specify that those ramps must lead anywhere. A few places are blocked by heavy doors (post office) or by hand trucks stored on the ramp (Catskill Art Supply), or the ramp leads to a second floor you must step into (chiropractor). I applaud their intent, but it’s important to know where there are truly functional ramps. one ramp even successfully takes you into a gift shop (Jean Turmo’s).

To summarize, there are many accessible things to see and do here despite being a patchworked town with frost heaves. There are places to eat, shop, and absorb the local culture. People are very nice and will help you – that is, if you ask.

Article by Robin B. Fre

Photos by Sally Delmerico

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Interview with Musician and Woodstock Resident, John Sebastian

John Sebastian sat on the deck of Chris Anderson’s recording studio, where he took a break from walking his blind little Shitzu, Ace, for a casual interview with Come to Woodstock. The proverbial multi-instrumentalist, far-famed Woodstock celebrity, and most notably, former member and creator of the Lovin’ Spoonful, Sebastian has returned to harmonicas and banjos in a Jug Band; continuing to perform in the genre of American folk music he helped develop during the late 50’s and early 60’s Greenwich Village beat scene when he was only a teenager. He is making connections and playing with old friends, and he doesn’t mind that his most recognized hit songs have become part of the national consciousness through commercials and advertisements. And while he would rather be left alone to walk his dog, he did stop to speak with us.

CTW: What projects are you involved with right now?

JS: As of late, I’ve been playing a lot of shows with David Grisman. David and I have played together starting in 1962. We missed a lot of each other during the interim years, but sort of reconnected because we ended up at the same benefit. So that’s been a major focus of late, as well as shows with Roger McGuinn, which I really enjoy doing. It’s funny, but Roger and I go back to ’63 in Greenwich Village. It’s been an interesting year of a lot of old friends.

CTW: Are there musicians, after all these years, who still make you think, “Wow, that song still blows me away?”

JS: Absolutely. I just went out yesterday to buy an obscure Chuck Berry reissue, because it contained an instrumental on which Chuck Berry played the pedal steel [guitar]. That song is called “Deep Feeling,” and it appeared on the B side of, I believe, “Maybelline.” Because in those days, Chess would try to ensure that the DJ focused on the up-song, the rock n’ roll song, by putting something pretty bluesy or slow or ballady on the B side. And this just happened to be what I considered one of the coolest three minutes of instrumental bliss.

CTW: When we discussed Robert Johnson, you said that as a teenager, you listened to these “shapes” he was creating and felt you could never replicate that on the acoustic guitar.

JS: Yes, the finger shapes, the chords.

CTW: When your started the Lovin’ Spoonful, did you develop an element of rock because you were humbled by the thought that you couldn’t possibly surpass the great America blues artists?

JS: Remember that the word “rock” used without the word “roll” really did not happen immediately. We were evolving a style. So it really wasn’t us looking at rock as a separate element and saying, “We’re going to add this.”

CTW: But it does seem. when you listen to the Spoonful, that you had this jug band that was partially a rock n’ roll band.

JS: Well, it was. What we were experiencing, as musicians, was a whole bunch of different kinds of music. We were, as New York kids, hearing WSM from Nashville, right along with the Magnificent Montague on WRL, as well as late at night, you could pick up the Grand Ole Opry…. So we were all hearing a lot of stuff, and reacting to it at the same time. So, yeah, as a guitar player, I’d already played in a sax and guitar band for three years, as this teenager, and then went to summer camp and heard people finger pick. And that was the first time that I heard that happen. So really, by the time I was playing,… it meant that I was finger picking, but I had a Les Paul…. So it didn’t feel like much of a leap when it was happening.

CTW: How long has it been since you wrote your first song and picked up your first instrument?

JS: Probably a real long time. Fifty years?

CTW: And do you remember the first song you ever wrote?

JS: Yeah. It was called, “Shepherds call her Iphigenia.” It was a response to a request. I think that very often, songs happen as a result of somebody asking for something.  Now, in this case, it was just a little prep school play, a Shakespearean play, and they let me do a little bit of music, and I ended up proposing this. And that became part of the act. But in the same year, my cousin and I had written “Rootie Toot.” You know, “There’s three little girls walking down the street. One of them had buck teeth and the other flat feet. But the one in the middle, she’s mighty cute. That’s my baby, she’ s my rootie toot.”

CTW:  On your band’s website, it says that the Spoonful was the American answer to the British invasion. 

JS: Well, the Lovin’ Spoonful was simply approaching a lot of the same sources that the English bands were using, without the extra step of leaving the country.

CTW:  Did you ever think, I’m going to be this fantastic song writer? Were you an ambitious kid with a guitar, or was this completely unplanned fame?

JS: No, it was a by-product of playing music and wanting to be a good guitar player, and simply trying to articulate ideas. I certainly assumed in the beginning that I wouldn’t be the guy that stood right under the spotlight. I started off as an accompanist. So that was really my focus, and songwriting grew out of that. Certainly, by the time I started to earn a few BMI awards, I had to face the fact that I was sort of “the songwriter” in my band. But I still think of myself more as a player than as a writer.

CTW: Well, that singer-songwriter label has certainly been attached to you.

JS: I was the first sensitive singer-songwriter.

CTW: Unlike Bob Dylan and all that followed?

JS: No, no, no. That was a different thing. That was a really great thing, but it was a different thing.

CTW: Was “Darling Be Home Soon,” written for a particular person, at that time?

JS: At the time, it was. But I’d have to say, musicians tend to idealize.

CTW: I’m sure that at 19, you didn’t think that you’d be the writer of one of the longest-running theme songs for McDonalds. Was that transition into the commercial world at all difficult?

JS: Well, the bad news for American art is that advertising actually supports many of these older copyrights, because they have a tremendous impact, and in many cases, that writer is trying to put a kid through school—without the assistance very much of this government—so that’s where I’m very glad that some of those songs had other applications. Yeah, it’s an advertisement. Musicians have had to stick our noses into that for a long time.

CTW: Do you have any challenges left as a musician?

JS: Well, I think that the challenge lies with our peers. The great men who continue to play. People make fun of the Rolling Stones. I say, they’re going to outlive us all. Because their heroes, also, were playing into their 70s, sometimes 80s. And you know, once you get over the cutie-pie phase, there’s no reason to stop playing music.

Interview originally printed in Come to Woodstock, August 2012, by Rebecca Chance

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Shamsi Ruhe at the Mothership (video with interview)

Shamsi Ruhe is a singer and songwriter with a female folk/alternative music vibe likened to Tracy Chapman and The Weepies.


Ruhe was the lead singer in the band ONE based out of Phoenix, AZ. She was signed to Mercury Records when she was nineteen years old, and subsequently signed by Chris Blackwell to Island Records.

Shamsi Ruhe writes and sings much of her own material. She has worked with Grammy award winning producers Paul Kolderie (Pixies, Warren Zevon, The Go-Go’s, Hole, Radiohead), Dean Jones (Dog On Fleas and The Felice Brothers), and Paul Ebersold (3 Doors Down, Sister Hazel). She also wrote and recorded with a team composed of Grammy nominated producer Rick Chertoff and Eric Bazilian, and Rob Hyman of The Hooters at Rykodisc.

Even though Shamsi was virtually tone deaf in childhood, her mother had dreamed about her while pregnant, envisioning a girl with a huge voice singing in a concert hall. So Shamsi was placed in vocal training with an opera coach at age four.

She grew up in Nashville, singing and writing songs and taking more operatic voice lessons.

Shamsi currently resides and performs in Woodstock, NY.

Article by Aspen Beat
Feature photo by Aspen Beat

Video filmed, edited and uploaded by Come to Woodstock
(with a little help from Jade)

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Amy Helm, A Woodstock Legacy

In a recent interview with Woodstock Magazine, Amy Helm shed light on her new upcoming solo album. Slated for a June debut release, Amy Helm and The Handsome Strangers will perform at Mountain Jam and will continue to perform on stages and festivals throughout the year.


This body of work is Amy Helm’s first endeavor to front a band, featuring her strong angelic voice as well as her talents on multiple instruments, including mandolin and guitar.

Helm says, “It has taken me some work to meet the physical challenge of singing and playing up front for an entire show.”

Having enjoyed her work with Ollabelle, the band she anchored along with Byron Isaacs, her life’s work has prepared her for a solo album. The Handsome Strangers consists of Byron Isaacs (bass & vocals), Don Littleton (guitar & vocals) and David Berger (drums/percussion).

Amy states that many of the talented musicians that have performed with The Handsome Strangers (or those who frequented The Barn, home of The Midnight Rambles) also appear on or influenced her album, such as Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Liz Mitchell, Catherine Russell, Jim Weider and many more.

Born into American musical royalty as the daughter of Levon Helm (songsmith, drummer, mandolin, and vocalist for The Band) and vocalist Libby Titus, Amy Helm is no stranger to public and recorded performances. Not too many entities can call on such a musical pedigree, gracing the roster of The Midnight Rambles (Levon’s realized dream of both a performance stage and recording studio). The Ramble Band, Ollabelle, and Dirt Farmer Band, all working projects of Levon’s that feature performances with Amy Helm.

Originals and a few covers make up this album with a sound, like a fine gumbo, that includes one part blues, a dash of Cajun spice, a touch of classic rock and a bit o’ soulful gospel for good measure. An early copy of the debut album can be shipped directly to you with three sneak peek mp3s: visit and click on the “Pledge” icon.

When the daughter of Woodstock’s favorite son produces an album with liner notes that read like an entertainment Who’s Who, then our future as the audience is so bright, we gotta wear shades. We, collectively as a community, wish to thank Amy Helm, as well as the crews and supporting staff that work behind the scenes to maintain what appears so effortless. “The Woodstock community has constantly been supportive of Levon and the endeavors of Levon Helm Studios,” says Amy.

As important as her music career is, Helm’s family values are best demonstrated in her daily life and role as a mom. Her nurturing abilities are not diluted by busy scheduling. As we chatted, she created a calming environment while her son enjoyed a mid-week school sick-day and mom’s company.

The Band and Bob Dylan honed an Americana folk sound, which eventually led to Levon Helm’s album “Dirt Farmer” achieving a Best Folk Album Grammy Award in ’08. Amy Helm shared production credits and provided vocals and instrumentation. Worthy of note, former Dylan guitarist/sideman Larry Campbell co-produced “Dirt Farmer,” and provided direction and instrumentation. The world was hungry for this musical meld and lightning struck twice as “Electric Dirt,” Levon’s final album, won yet another Grammy in a newly created category, “Best Americana Album.”

This is a sound and style not learned or simply produced, but seeped and distilled like moonshine. Levon Helm has inspired musicianship as well as agricultural education to young people through Onteora School benefits and The Rambles, and Amy Helm carries on that legacy. It is not uncommon for The Barn to bring students from the local Paul Green Rock Academy and introduce them to live stage performances.

Far from Nashville, nestled in the Catskills, Levon Helm’s dream remains fulfilled, with a cozy performance venue at The Barn, served up homestyle like the Grand Ole Opry. The Midnight Rambles will continue to present eclectic performances with iconic musicians.

Woodstock has a long history as a cultural destination for artists and musicians. As the 50’s brought on the beatnik subculture and bohemian lifestyle, that subculture was adopted by musicians in many parts of America (though the West Coast and San Francisco may have been the cradle of the bohemian stylized culture). As the 60’s transpired, it was not adults with regular jobs and families who influenced the culture, but a restless movement by young people referred to as “hippies.” Free thinkers, radicals and communes filled TV news and periodicals of the time. Vietnam was an unpopular war in a land most Americans could not find on a globe. While a generation chanted for peace, it was peppered with dissent, and the music of the time reflected this.

By 1965, music was changing. Joni Mitchell, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and The Mamas and Papas maintained acoustical strumming as accompaniment. Bob Zimmerman, later known as Bob Dylan, brought timeless yet modern folk music to the masses. Steeped in poetry and simple chords, with only a guitar and harmonica for backing, his music grew immensely popular with a youthful audience hungry to call a style their own. Soon, even Bob Dylan morphed by using electric accompaniment. Perhaps it was under the advisement of then-manager Albert Grossman (a Woodstock producer to many rock acts) that Dylan should tour with this electrified version of a folk band, The Hawks. Levon Helm was on drums, and Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson rounded out this backup band, which toured with Ronnie Hawkins, a known rock & roller. This electrified accompaniment (soon to be known as “The Band”) did not sit well with some of Dylan’s audience.

After a European tour, Dylan, who at the time called Woodstock home, was convalescing for nearly a year from a rather serious motorcycle accident he suffered locally, on Striebel Road in Bearsville. Soon his band also settled into Woodstock. The Band assembled tracks at the house they rented called “Big Pink,” where they composed the album “Music from Big Pink.” This pink house in West Saugerties was also where Dylan created the sketch tracks that became known as “The Basement Tapes.” This very successful plethora of tunes honed by Dylan, along with individual members of The Band, was released first as bootlegs, and as a complete album in 2014.

The 1967 “Summer of Love” was rather like an incubation period for bigger things to come. In ’68, entrepreneur Michael Lang got his feet wet in business and concert promotion in Florida, but it was here in Woodstock in 1969 that the town’s namesake concert formed its roots. Township fathers became unsettled, fearing the size of such gatherings in the past, before Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel became the festival site. Michael Lang and partner Artie Kornfeld swam against the tide of public opinion to orchestrate the largest peaceful assembly of man and most successful music festival of its time.

While there were the hard rockers of the day appearing on the Woodstock festival stage, they were sometimes followed by easy folk and blends of both genres. Music became a melting pot as Jimi Hendrix’s stinging licks were appreciated by the same audience drinking in acoustical melodies. Together, musicians developed their craft and married sounds and styles from Chicken Scratch, Arkansas (Levon’s home), to San Francisco, to New York City.

Since the earliest days of colonization, historic events led to the shaping of Woodstock as a cultural destination sought by artisans, writers, musicians, agriculturists, craftspeople, industrialists, and of course, even you and me.

After English explorer Henry Hudson sailed up the river now bearing his name, word of this lush and fertile area spread throughout Europe. Authors built reputations by writing prose and poetry such as Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” a legend that has stood the test of time. In the story, a somewhat lazy ‘local’ downs a few pints with Hudson’s crew and naps for 20 years in the Catskill Mountains near Palenville. He awakens years later to realize time has passed him by, a somewhat mystical hypnotic effect visitors often still succumb to.

Story and legend were not the only forms of expression that flourished. An entire movement of landscape painting ensued as The Hudson River School was founded by Thomas Cole and brought students like Frederic Edwin Church, known for his huge oil landscape paintings. Not far from us here, across the river at his mansion (Olana), many of his massive works may be viewed. Certainly worth a visit.

While the Hudson River School attracted painters to this area, another venue was born under the direction of Jane Byrd McCall, Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, Bolton Brown and Hervey White. The Byrdcliffe Arts Colony was founded in 1902 and remains functional today. The center still provides performance stages, art exhibitions, workshops, and classes to foster an environment of artistic culture. It often provided lodging to aspiring artists and musicians– including, in the 60’s, Bob Dylan.

Yet another colony was constructed in 1916 by Hervey White, and Maverick Concerts formed. Still offering performances today and featuring chamber music as a mainstay, there is no limit to the genres they will nurture. It was in 1952 when musician/pianist David Tudor performed a piece created by experimental music composer John Cage. Soon to be referred to as “4’33,” it consisted of 4 minutes and 33 seconds with no written or recorded notes. Instead, the audience listened to ambient sounds of wind, birds, weather, and even the audience-generated noise. Perhaps too avant-garde for me, but exemplary of the freethinking Woodstock is known for. Maverick also created the Young Peoples Concerts and fostered educational programs.

Today Woodstock still stands as a community supporting art, music, and entertainment. This town has been home to many of the greats, and while we mourn the loss of our favorite son, Levon, the torch is carried by Amy Helm. And she carries it well.
Article by Craig McCornock
Feature photo by Connie Ward

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Interview with Paul Kantner

Descended from Jefferson Airplane, and known for hits such as “Somebody To Love,” “Volunteers,” and “Miracles,” Jefferson Starship has been going strong for nearly forty years. Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship founder Paul Kantner was available for an interview to discuss Jefferson Starship’s music as well as their upcoming show in Woodstock.

Unlike other bands that commonly tour for months at a time, Jefferson Starship, aside from a few exceptions, tours only up to three weeks at a time. Citing comfort and sanity as the reason for such short tours, the members of Jefferson Starship prefer to spend as much time in San Francisco as possible.

San Francisco, Paul Kantner’s hometown and the place of Jefferson Airplane’s formation, has played a key role in Kantner’s life. “As much as you may fault it, it’s one of the best ways of coming into new ideas. Meeting people and talking with them down in the various places in town, and hanging out here and there, and you just run into ideas, and frontiers, and adventures and just a whole lot of stuff that completely fills me up, actually.”

The ideas, frontiers, and adventures that influence Kantner perhaps contribute to his desire to give every audience a unique experience. Kantner explained, “We have several different kinds of audiences and I usually try to tailor a show to the kinds of people I expect to be playing to. Sometimes when we get there it’s different and I have to recalculate everything, but by and large I can usually figure out what to play and it works out pretty good. And . . . we’re flexible so that adds in and mixes pretty well.

“As a band we don’t really play the same show every time we go out and play. We have a bunch of different songs and I pick and choose among them, depending on where we’re playing, who we’re playing to, and what we’re feeling like. And more often than not, the chances are, the set I draw up will change half way through the set. It’s based on a hundred different factors.”

He continued, “We don’t play even the same song that we play night after night the same way. Or even in the same key for that matter. I’m thinking of having everybody exchange instruments some night and just see what happens with that, but I haven’t quite got there yet.”

Because Jefferson Starship prefers to perform for weeks at a time, there is plenty of time for side projects. Kantner is currently in the process of working on two books. The first is a science fiction book, while the second, which is to be called Tales from the Mothership, will contain tales from their time on the planet, from birth through Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship.

Paul Kantner and Jerry Garcia

According to Kantner, side projects are common for the rest of the band. When they are not playing together, all of the members have other things they do. At the moment, Jefferson Starship are focusing on completing a few new albums. Currently, they are working on a folk music album that will include the use of the acoustic guitar and banjo. Long term, there is a plan for another Jefferson Starship rock n’ roll album.

Kantner commented, “The studio is much more controlled, and planned,and organized, and the stage you can sometimes let yourself go wild, and things are there that you don’t plan or think about, and they just occur and you go with them, and that’s one of the joys of the stage, is just the coming out of nowhere and not knowing what you’re going to do and going with it.

“It drives you in a way that is unlike any other art I think, because of the sound and the connection with the people in front of you and the connection back to you from them. There is a nice vibrant situation going along there.”

The connection that Kantner speaks of will no doubt be alive during the local performance in Woodstock. Kantner explained, “I’ve walked around the town [Woodstock] and gone in various places and I’ve enjoyed myself. I like that area of the country quite a lot. And the forests and everything I am quite fond of up there. You have different  kinds of forests than we do out here on the West coast. I like them.”

He continued, “I usually just go with what occurs. And that takes care of me more than enough as a general rule. I like being in the town, I like the people around me, and so you can just wander around aimlessly as I say, as I do in San Francisco, and run into people you wouldn’t expect. And that’s the thing I like about that. And Woodstock has a good plethora of things like that to wander around and find.”

Originally published July 2012 in Come to Woodstock
Interview by Chantal O’Connor

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Interview with Michael Billera: Thanks for Christ and Wine

Michael Billera’s poetic lyrics evoke a feeling of being a fly on the wall in a psychedelic speakeasy, a Catskill mountain town version of Brigadoon brimming with the best stories never told. Whatever project he is singing for, be it the heavy melodic rock of long-running Upstate NY heroes Spincyclelava or on his exciting new solo material, Billera’s smoky, low voice proves a fascinating narrator.

I spoke to Michael about his new solo “pop” material and near effortless ability to command the creative spark.

CTW: You have been rocking out in the Hudson Valley and elsewhere for years, but what makes this area special to you?

Michael Billera: My family moved here from Hell’s Kitchen in ’75. I’ve considered the Catskills my home ever since.

CTW: You have an extroverted theatrical side with Spincyclelava with clay and fire breathing but also have always sought inner truth. How would you describe your creative process and musical journey?

MB: The creative process is the musical journey, as persistence is the key in this business. I’m not in pursuit of fame as much as I’m in pursuit of self-discovery.

CTW: What are a few of the highlights of your career as an artist?

MB: Bob Mould from Hüsker Dü putting out my first 45 when I was in The Warm Jets. Playing with Jane’s Addiction three nights in a row. The Spincyclelava release of “Pilot” on Error 404 records. The time David Sanchez (world class musician) turned me on to” The Lexicon of musical Invectives ” by Nicolas Slonimsky, which was life changing. Doing the live request show at WDST as the guest DJ for 8 weeks. Thanks WDST. You’re always good to me.

CTW: You have started working with the label Paper Tiger/ Lucero Records and longtime friend Brian Goss on your own solo material. How is it different from SCL for those who haven’t heard it?

MB: Assuming readers are familiar with SCL and the heavy yet psychedelic sound we produce together, this is a departure from that. Brian and I discuss this material as anti-rock. It’s nice to show listeners another side of myself.

CTW: What can you tell us about the two new solo singles you have out?

MB: “Buckaroo and Honey Baby” is a love song. It’s for someone who meant so much to me that I couldn’t let her go. By placing our hearts in this song I felt I could keep a lost love we once shared in the most sacred place I know. “Interstate Dave” is about an old rough and tumble gent from my hometown of Palenville. He was a hard drinker and smoker of grass, and was loved by all.

CTW: I remember once Spincyclelava was playing the famous Tinker Street Café. A drunk guy ignored your safety rules and stepped over the safety line just as you breathed fire. The guy turned around and had fiery eyebrows! Any other close calls you’d like to share or not?

MB: Dave Dowd was hosting the WDST Thursday night live sessions from Tinker Street as you said and he and I had warned the audience of the fire beforehand. The patron you spoke of was intoxicated and giving the rest of the crowd a hard time. When I spit the first flame on the show opener someone pushed him into the flame!! Thank goodness he had a leather jacket. As far as other close calls, never the audience but I’ve been burned up plenty over 20 years. That’s what happens when you play with fire!

CTW: What is a classic rock song that always moves you and why?

MB: “Golden Slumbers” from The Beatles. It always reminds me that home is where the heart is, when losing sight of myself. I’ve been writing songs for 25 years plus now and I’m still learning and searching for words. It’s a way of life, which is as important to me as breathing and procreation.

CTW: You wrote one of my all time favorite inspiring lyrics “You and I will ride on the road that has no end, where the limit is the mind, which is the product of demand.” Care to comment on that one?

MB: One of my faves too. From the SCL song “The Girl and the Wine.” The road that has no end is the stage! The product of demand is the band. It’s all about achieving the bliss and atonement. The fruit of one’s labors.
Interview from 2012 by Morgan Y. Evans

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