Midnight Ramble TicketOnce you get it, you can’t forget it.

I had a standing-room-only ticket. Not having a ticket for a seat made me edgy. I get frenzied about making sure I have the right perspective, the right positioning for any gig I attend. I get shark attack frenzied when the gig in question means as much as this one.

At 7pm they opened the door to let us in. Walking up the stairs to enter the studio I was juiced-up with equal parts anticipation, anxiousness and flat out awe. I had made it; this was the real-deal and it was about to happen, but before it did I had to find my spot.

I am in the studio now. Actually, it is a barn that doubles as a studio. The space inside is generous, but feels cozy. It is rustic, but not old. It is timber-framed and held together by wooden pegs and bluestone pulled from local Woodstock quarries. It was made by local craftsman, out of the kindness of their hearts. By the end of the night, the structure proves to be the perfect foil for the near perfect acoustics. The lights are dimmed low and give off the feeling of a cathedral full of glowing candles. It feels safe inside; a place to kick-back, sit a spell and take a load off.

There is a mezzanine hanging over the performance floor that accommodates both seating and standing. I decide this would be a good place to get a bird’s-eye view of the night’s entertainment and I go upstairs to get a look.

On my way to the stairs I pass by a massive stone fireplace complete with roaring fire and people chatting and warming themselves in it’s heat. When I get upstairs, I peer out over the balcony; although it feels as though I am directly on top of the band, it is still too far away; I need to feel connected.  I spy a platform in back of where the band is set to play. It hovers over the performance floor. That is my spot.

To get to this spot I walk by a few guys wearing yellow shirts: the security. In truth, they are less about security and more about accommodation. There is a set of stated and unwritten rules for the event. If you are there for the event, you aren’t there to break them. Security governs the stated; the attendees honor the unwritten.

I point up to where I intend to go and question the security guy about “my spot.”

“Is that a good place to be for the show?”

“Anyplace in here is a good place for the show,” he said with a grin.

“Yeah, but I will be behind the band. I don’t want to miss anything.”

“You’re inside, aren’t ‘cha? You’re not gonna miss a thing.”

“Okay, man, I’ll take your word on it.”

“You’re not gonna miss a thing,” he said again and he assures me of that with a solid pat on the back as I walk up the stairs to my night’s perch. So off I go to my spot. My road to the Ramble had started over twenty years ago. These last few steps felt like a homecoming.

There I was, standing within six feet of my host and hero, Levon Helm. I was about to take in my first Levon Helm Midnight Ramble, the good time event that has been the lifeblood pumping through the heart of one of America’s greatest music makers for as long as he can remember.

In Martin Scorsese’s classic film about The Band, The Last Waltz, Levon Helm talked about the Midnight Rambles of his youth.

“After the finale, they’d have the midnight ramble,” Helm told Scorsese. “With young children off to bed, the festivities resumed, but with a rowdier feel: the songs would get a little bit juicier, the jokes would get a little funnier and the prettiest dancer would really get down and shake it a few times.”

Check out this very clip from the flick: Levon explains the Midnight Ramble.

These Rambles were offshoots of early 20th century traveling medicine shows. The medicine show was a roving band of storytellers, scheisters and showman. For the most part, they peddled “snake oil” or “miracle elixirs” that were touted for a variety of uses: good for keeping you fit, trimming fat or for curing whatever fate people thought they were doomed to.

Entertainment was the other product these shows were selling. Most often these quack medicine profiteers would also serve as a source of ribald and rowdy entertainment for the locals. Minstrels, dancers and jokesters were part of the troupe and they kept the parties roaring well into the night.

Growing up in Arkansas in the 1940’s and 50’s, Levon experienced his share of medicine shows and rambles. Those influences proved indelible. He’s been playing out these images and instances in the music he’s made with his kin, The Band, his solo work and now, in his own home at The Midnight Ramble, for over six decades.

One of the most obvious examples of this influence can be found in The Band’s classic tune, W.S. Wolcott’s Medicine Show.

Once you get it,
You can’t forget it.
The W.S. Wolcott Medicine show

The same can be said for the first time you encounter the music of Levon Helm: once you get it, you can’t forget it.

Catch a Cannonball

Back in 1987 I was a sophomore in high school. I was ambitious and curious as all hell; I was always peering around corners. I had my interests and one of them was music. Actually, music wasn’t so much an interest as it was an anchor. Like any good sixteen year old I was impressionable and wanted to be part of the scene. So much happening all around me and there was so much that I wanted to be a part of. I needed something to latch on to help me make sense of it all to identify with something and to create an identity for myself. That was when the music started to play.

I was at this party – a “senior” party. I felt a bit out of place, but wanted to be part of the scene at all costs. I spent the night moving around to and from one of three spots: my wallflower outpost in the corner of the room, the line for the keg and the stereo. I paid very close attention to what was happening at the stereo.

Music was my “cool-magnet”. I figured that if you had good music you would attract all things cool. This one guy that night proved that point. He was obviously experienced at manning the music and manipulating the mood of the room. He was popping mix tapes in and out of the dual cassette player all night long (remember, this is the ‘80’s). The crowd loved it. I loved it. The crowd seemed to know all of the tunes. I hardly knew any of them.

As far as I was concerned, this guy was the shit. The chicks were digging him, the guys were backslapping him and the music fuelled the party all night long. I had to get my hands on those mix tapes.

Before I left that night, I stumbled over to the stereo. There were mix tapes piled up on top of it. I stabbed my hand into the pile, pulled out a random tape and jammed it into my pocket. Aside from the fact I was too drunk to pick up chicks, the only thing I wanted to score that night was one of those mix tapes.

The next morning I woke up and tried to shake off the prior night. A few hours later, I found the mix tape in my coat pocket. Yes! I had forgotten all about that brazen act of thievery. I was feeling proud of myself. There in my hand was a key into the Kingdom of Cool.

The tape was rewound to the beginning of “Side B” (remember, this is the ‘80’s). I dropped it into the deck and pressed play. Those first handful of seconds of silence before the music played felt like forever. I had no idea what was going to come out of the speakers, but, based on my perceived importance of this tape, I anticipated something monumental. I was nowhere near ready for what happened next.

Euphoria is a sneaky bastard. It is unexpected. It is like nothing you have felt before. It is a point of no return. When it hits you, it packs a wallop not unlike that of a jarring sledgehammer blow.

This is exactly what it felt like twenty-three years ago when I first heard The Band’s, The Weight, come lopping out of the speakers.

I had heard The Band before, but I had never actually listened to them. I was still in the huge chords, thumping drums, wailing solos phase of my rock and roll education. The Band’s low-key, solo-less, textured music had never cut through the cacophony of all that wailing and soloing for me.

At that moment all those years ago, alone in my room, listening to that mix tape, The Band had my attention, especially the guy singing the lead vocals; his voice cut straight to the bone.

The song started off with that anaemic, tinkering, Far East-esque guitar sound, the plodding drums and that little flourish of piano. Then, without any hint of warning, it all gave way to that rich, caramel-y, road weary voice. That was it for me. The voice was overpowering. It took control of the song and it commanded my attention. I was certainly willing to give it.

I had no idea what Levon Helm was singing about and I didn’t care. It was the delivery and the presence of the voice that struck me. It felt like the truth. Straight away I believed in it. I wanted to hear everything it had to say and every story it had to tell.

For the next twenty minutes or so, I kept rewinding those first few verses just to hear Levon sing. For the next twenty years I didn’t stop listening to Levon and learning about where his sound came from.

A Vital Part of Their Lives

I am a passionate music fan. The music I love means a lot to me. I am passionate about listening to it, learning about it, swapping stories about it, experiencing it live and sharing it. That first euphoric sledgehammer experience I had with Levon and The Weight so many years ago had a profound impact on me. It changed the way I thought about, listened to and identified with (my kind of) music. It turned me into a true music fan.

I realised that, especially with the music that Levon made, it wasn’t just about the song, it was about the stories and people and shared communal experiences behind the songs that gave the songs their true meaning and purpose. Whether or not the songs actually meant something in a literal or cloaked sense (e.g. “Paul is dead”) wasn’t the point. Where the songs and feel of the music came from and what they were influenced by, resonated with me more than anything.

There are a couple of passages in Peter Guralnick’s epic book, Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm & Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, that ring true. In the first, Guralnick describes the meaning of the music, where it came from and why the (learned) listener connected with the singer’s message.

[They] sing music from the heart; music that is deeply engraved in their background and experience. All make reference to this in one way or another; all recall a boyhood in the country, on the farm, a sharply delineated group of men and women who grew up in circumstances probably very much like their own, who responded to the music not just as entertainment but as a vital part of their lives.

For people like me – a complete foreigner to this way of life – it is this intriguing and curious background and experience that draws me to the music. As someone who cannot truly understand the meaning and origins on a first hand basis, I can only lean into it to learn and appreciate it for what it is musically and the message I derive from it.

Again, I will call on Guralnick to provide clarity:

To appreciate that kind of commitment [of these men and women], though, you have to be prepared to make a commitment of your own. What is involved is a kind of leap of faith on the listener’s part, willingness to extend his or her own horizons and break out of the passive restraints that an evolving society has imposed upon us. What is involved is engagement.

Engagement: I am chock full of that. Engagement is my way of giving back. I have made many leaps of faith for the music I am drawn to. Levon’s music – the message within, the stories and characters – has been drawing me closer and closer to it for sometime now. I could not think of a way to get any closer to it than to (finally!) go to the source.

The Road to the Ramble

Levon lives in Woodstock, NY, the spiritual home and caretaker of the late ’60s ethos of peace, harmony and community. He has lived there since he and the rest of The Band grew roots in the basement of Big Pink to brew their own special blend of old timey, sepia toned music. While most of the rest of the world has turned on to the digital trappings of the information super-highway, Woodstock remains an off the beaten path, back-roads kinda town.

If you want to get to a Ramble, you are going to have to take a few back-roads. People have been making the jaunt to Levon’s barn since the first Ramble in 2003. If necessity is the mother of invention, the Ramble is its fortune son.

In the late ’90s, Levon fell on hard times. He was forced into bankruptcy to save his home. He was diagnosed with throat cancer and went into a lengthy recovery process. Because of this, his career took a backseat to his survival. He was in danger of losing everything: his long time home, his legendary voice and his ability to connect with his fans.

In the meantime, the people closest to him – his friends, family and the local Woodstock community – never stopped caring. They came together to help build Levon’s barn, the Grammy winning recording studio and home of this modern day Ramble. They put his career back on track and restored his place as living legend with two Grammy winning albums, 2007’s Dirt Farmer and 2009’s Electric Dirt. Levon, though not without hardship and heath struggles, was back where he belonged: making music with friends and family and sharing the good times with those who cared to be a part of it.

I have cared about being a part of Levon’s Ramble for quite some time. I’m New Hampshire born and bred; I sat a spell in Rhode Island; I spent a handful of years in Boston; since 2005 I have been living in Australia and, currently, London, England. The Ramble always seemed just out of arm’s reach.

Finally I decided that no distance was too far and I bought my (standing room only) ticket for the 29 January Ramble.

On the morning of the 29th, I picked up my rental car in Boston, Massachusetts. I was headed west to New York State in search of good music, community and a sense of belonging; I was taking my leap of faith.

Midnight Ramble Roadtrip

Ah, a good ol’ American road trip: the affirmation of our freedom to roam from coast to coast. The earliest settlers roamed to this new land from the east. The next wave of roamers, pioneers, took that great big road trip out west and unified the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Along the way they sang songs and played music to keep themselves entertained and their minds off the hardships of the road. Music was part of their community bond. They may have been traveling many miles from home and into uncharted territory, but the singing and the music kept them connected to everything that meant something.

Fortunately I wasn’t driving a covered wagon, but I was going to be listening to music on my ride  – a lot of it. Prior to my trip I had asked a bunch of friends, followers and fellow music heads to help a brother out by collaborating on a playlist for my trip.

We are all subscribers to the online music subscription service, Rdio. At will, everyone added tunes to the playlist. My only rules were that the songs had to either evoke the spirit of the music that Levon made, and if they did not, the songs had to have personal meaning for whomever added them.

The Road to the Ramble Playlist

The cross-curated collection of songs was bow-down good. We ended up with over four hours of music that would fuel my ride across Massachusetts and up through the back roads of Woodstock. Even though I was making this road trip solo, I never really felt like I was alone. I had good tunes to keep me company: handpicked by trusted and like-minded members of my music fan community.

With a steady pace and steady stream of sing-along songs pouring out ofthe speakers, I rollicked and rolled from east to west, highway to backroads straight into Woodstock.

Come on out and catch the show (all kinds a people you might want to know)

They open up the parking lot to Levon’s place at 6pm. The doors to the studio, to get inside the barn, open at 7pm. The Ramble doesn’t start until 8pm, but they allow you to get on the property a bit early to get comfortable.

When you drive up to Levon’s house, there are no billboards, markers or giant, flashing neon arrows pointing and proclaiming, “This Way to Levon’s!”  You have to understand this: you are going to Levon’s house. This isn’t the Verizon Center or the local amphitheatre; this is Levon’s home, where he lives year round. To approach the house is akin to driving through your own neighborhood. When you get to his driveway, the only hint that it is Levon’s place is the mailbox with the numbers “160” on it (he lives on 160 Plochmann Lane).

I am driving on Plochmann Lane, I have The Band’s Live album Rock of Ages playing and I am excited. I pull in to the driveway and head down to the check-in at the bottom where I am met by Jeff who welcomes me with sincere enthusiasm. He asks for my surname and goes off to find my ticket.

“Is this your first Ramble, Judd?” (he has made sure to read my name off my ticket before he makes it back to my car window)

“Yes, it is and I’m happy as all hell to be here.”

“Well we are sure happy to have you.”

He gives me a few instructions on seating and sends me off to park. It is January and it’s bitterly cold. I drive thirty yards to the parking lot and I am met by another gentlemen, bundled tightly and warming himself by a small fire nearby. He welcomes me, wishes me a good night and then points me to where I should park.

I am one of the first people to arrive. I want to soak it all in – all of it – and I want to take my time. I make my way to the barn to get on line. Before I do, I make a stop into the “General Store”. The General Store sits directly underneath the performance area located upstairs in the studio. It is a no frills setting: part storage area, part merchandise stand, part makeshift buffet.

In my hand is a pumpkin pie. One of the reasons why the Ramble is so special is that it is not a concert per se, rather it is a community gathering. When you visit the Ramble you are encouraged to bring food to share with others: baked good, side dishes, sandwiches or what ever else you like. Before the opening act, at intermission and after the show everyone is welcome to grab some food and shoot the shit with the other guests.

Jeanie works the merch table and asks me my name and what I have brought.

“It is a pumpkin pie that I bought at the local bakery.”

“Oh, great! We love their pumpkin pie. You’ll make fast friends around these parts with that. Let me get that for you.”

I ask her if she can help me with buying a few bits of merchandise.

“Absolutely! Wait, I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name? Who are you and where did you come from?”

I tell her my name and I tell her I made the trip from London, but I’m really from N.H. and so forth and so on. Before I realize it, we’ve had a fifteen-minute chat, just getting acquainted. She is making me feel like I belong, like I am a friend of the family. I feel welcome and I feel at home. The true colors of the Ramble are starting to show.

I head back outside and get in line; I am close to thirty people deep. There is a couple behind me; it is the husband’s fortieth birthday. I congratulate him on the fact that he made it to forty and that he made it to the Ramble. He says he has been planning this for a few years now; it is a special occasion.

There is a woman walking up to the line with two large trays covered with aluminum foil. She made two lasagnas and is trying to figure out where she can put them. I point out the General Store and offer to help her carry one of the trays. On the way to the food tables she tells me that her kids “love her lasagna.” She says she only makes it on special occasions.

There is a group of 8-10 people standing in front of me. They are all baby boomers. They saw The Band together in the early ‘70s and they were reuniting at tonight’s Ramble to talk old times and see if they could strike up some of those old sparks. They are having a great time. They don’t get together often; they do so only on special occasions.

I’m standing outside Levon’s house and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’m thinking of that ear-opening day back when I was a sophomore in high school  – the day I first really listened to Levon sing. From that moment on I stopped listening to music and started to experience it. I started to explore and seek it out.

I made my way to Clarksdale, Mississippi and up to the West Side of Chicago where I found Charlie Patton and Otis Rush. While in Chicago I stopped by 2120 South Michigan Avenue to check in on Wolf and Muddy and Chuck and Bo. Then I travelled on up to Detroit Michigan where I boogied with John Lee Hooker. I hopped a couple of Greyhounds down to Memphis where I looked in the front window of Sun Records and caught a glimpse of Johnny Cash playing the boom-chicka-boom for Mr. Phillips. I stuck out a thumb and hitched a ride to 926 East McLemore Avenue in South Memphis, home of Stax Records, where I listened in on Booker T. & The MGs back up Otis Redding on hit after hit. I went to Muscle Shoals, L.A., Texas, New York, Boston, Topanga Canyon and all points in between.

Now I am inside the studio, inside Levon’s house. I have found my spot. I am standing within six feet of my host and hero, Levon Helm. I am about to take in my first Midnight Ramble. This is definitely a special occasion.

The crowd is just as important as the group. It takes everything to make it work. – Levon Helm

From where I am standing it feels like I have a backstage pass. I am behind the band, but it is not awkward. There are people all around me, above me, behind me, to the right and left of me and in front of me. We are everywhere.

The people seated in the front row are practically part of the band. They could reach out and grab Larry Campbell’s mic stand. The person sitting to Levon’s left could rest his elbows on his drum kit. We are part of the band.

There are no boundaries, no separation between the artists and the crowd. Each and every one of us in the room is performing tonight. We are part of the experience.

The night’s opening act takes the mic. He is Steve Guyger, harmonica player extraordinaire. He is an old friend of Levon. He and Levon haven’t seen one another in many years. When they greet each other later that night, they pause the performance long enough to hug and back-slap and have a quick catch-up. No one minds the break in the action. It warms the heart to see two old buddies reconnect. We are fortunate to witness it.

The harmonica man brings a guitar player with him, Richard Ray Farrell. They are the torchbearers, carrying on the tradition of roaming from town to town, from big halls to small juke joints, to play the blues for the people. They play and we clap and sing. We all share in the fun.

The traveling blues duo take a bow. It’s time for the Levon Helm Band to take the floor. It would be more appropriate to call them a family rather than a band. There is Levon, the father figure of the group. His daughter Amy, a stunning vocalist and talented instrumentalist in her own right, is also part of the act.

Larry Campbell, legendary sideman, producer of Levon’s solo albums, and world-class talent on various stringed instruments is the band leader. His wife, Teresa Williams is the other golden throat in this group, as well as a mighty fine rhythm guitar player.

The rest of the band includes Brian Mitchell, the multi-talented accordionist, piano man, keyboardist and vocalist, Jim Weider, long time Levon collaborator and The Band Mach II guitarist, as well as a handful of horn players who take on the roles of cousins, nephews and in-laws.

The band takes the stage and gives Levon room to make his entrance. This is who we came to see. He comes in to the studio from the side of the room. He is smiling and waving to his guests. His build seems slight, but his stride to his drum kit is cock-sure.

He walks through the crowd, shaking hands and giving a thumbs-up to everyone he can’t reach. He props himself up on his stool, pulls the mic close and says, “yeah, baby!” It’s time for the fun to begin. We all whoop and holler back at him. I can feel the smile on my face growing, skin stretching and then, whammo!, that familiar Levon euphoria feeling hits me – again.

Levon grabs his sticks, gives a nod to Larry and then counts off the first song of the night. Like most families, this group is tight. They have been doing this for a while and it shows. The music starts with a classic Band song, The Shape I’m in. Based on the way everyone plays, they are all in great shape.

I am up on my perch, directly to Levon’s right. I can see his every move. I pay close attention to his technique. What he lacks in voice tonight, he makes up for with pure hell fire playing on the drums. He is driving this band. He is not just drums, he is lead drums.

The cancer has permanently altered Levon’s voice. It is not the same sturdy, rich, pitch perfect voice that it was prior to the illness. He sings back-up most of the night, only taking leads on Ophelia, W.S. Wolcott and the night’s finale, The Weight. But even on these songs, he doesn’t sing lead entirely.

It doesn’t matter. No one expects a Levon lead vocal straight out of 1972. We aren’t here for his voice; we are here for his vibe. The entire event is a living breathing embodiment of Levon’s vibe. It feels good and it permeates throughout the studio and the crowd all night long.

The band played for over two hours, giving us nearly two dozen songs to dance and sing along to. The music they play is special. You are inspired and compelled to listen to more real music such as this. Lead vocals are traded, solos are played, spotlights are shared. Make no mistake, though, this show is not about standing out; it is about joining in. That goes for the guests, too. We may not have instruments in hand, but we join in with singing, foot stomps, hand claps, cheers and applause.

The sounds we create on this night are a group effort. No one musician, instrument or person, even Levon, will take precedence over the collective. Yes, Levon is the star of the show, but he doesn’t matter more than the music. In fact, just watching Levon play with his friends, you can tell that he understands this and is enjoying the hell out of the sounds we are creating.

Here are a few quick-hit highlights from the performance:

  • You’re Running Wild, a Charlie Louvin cover, performed as a tribute as he recently passed. It sounded very Roy Orbison-y and damn good at that.
  • There were two Grateful Dead covers, Attics of My Life being one of them. It sounded like church in the studio while Larry, Amy and Theresa sang this for us. It felt like a gentle church hymn.
  • Legendary brass-man, Howard Johnson, put down the tuba and took over lead vocal on Get a Little Loving. A fun, fun tune performed in a playful manner.Set List Midnight Ramble 01/29/11
  • What was my fave rave Band cover of the night? It was a tie between a surprise (to me) Goin’ to Acapulco and a gorgeous duet by Amy and Teresa on It Makes No Difference. Both performed with passion and taste.
  • Amy Helm impressed the hell out of me (and everyone else) with her singing on Good News and Reasons. She raised the temp in the studio!
  • Mardi Gras and Bourgeois Town were flat-out party tunes. The horn section was ON FIRE. The brass attack actually took to their feet and marched through the crowd on Mardi Gras.
  • Teresa sang her ass off on Lamps. Equal parts beauty and beast; powerful and pretty. Whew!
  • Larry Campbell – stellar on everything he did – was magnificent on lead vocal for Volver. It was a true highlight. Even Levon gave him a standing ovation.
  • Levon was a powerhouse on the drums: finesse and muscle; down in the groove until the very end.
  • Song #18 was to be either (Don’t want to) Hang Up My Rock ‘n Roll Shoes or Wolcott. Levon called out for Walcott. I would have been happy with either (and I was).
  • The Weight was a group sing-a-long between musicians, staff and guests. Being a part of that last song is a moment I will never forget.

Take what you need and leave the rest

I am prone to hyperbole and sweeping, gushing gestures of fan-boy fervor when I write about the music I love. I am also unapologetic. For that is what being a passionate music fan is all about and I feel very passionate about the experience I shared at Levon’s Midnight Ramble.

I don’t play an instrument and I have never played in a band. But on this night at the Ramble, I felt like I did. I felt like I was part of a performance. I felt like I was creating, contributing and collaborating with everyone in the room. It felt good. It felt harmonious.

Harmonious. That was the word I thought of as I made my way to my car after the performance. Whether it was the singing, the spirit or the setting, harmony was everywhere. It felt good to be a part of that. It felt genuine and authentic. It was a celebration. I was inspired.

All of this harmony comes from Levon himself. Who he is and how he carries himself is synonymous with creating harmonies between family, friends and community. His generosity knows no bounds. He opens up his home and shares his history and traditions and presents it as if it was done just for you. Sure, you could say that he is doing this purely to make a buck, but that is not purely the case here. This effort is earnest and unselfish and an act of trust. He invites us in and allows us to connect with him in ways that is impossible with other artists – or even ourselves.

My Ramble experience got me to thinking about what it is that I truly value and what is most important and what is most frivolous in my life. For the past few years I have been pulling up stakes and moving to places all over the globe. While I wouldn’t trade one moment of all that have I learned and experienced, there are trade-offs: you lose a bit of your connection with friends, family and community.

After the Ramble, I felt like I wanted to reconnect. I felt like I had clarity on what it really is that I aspire to. How I will get there? That is part of the process. Knowing what is important, what is not and what I want to achieve is what matters.

Whew! That is heavy stuff for a concert review. See, that is the thing. As I said earlier, the Ramble is not a concert, it is a community event. It is unlike any concert experience you will ever have. What Levon is sharing with us is how it always was.

The Ramble is what Levon was brought up on. The Ramble is a snapshot of what the music experience was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in America. The Ramble reflects what this music experience once was and who Levon still is. But what he is, is a bona fide American treasure.

Sadly, these experiences are scarce today. Either that is a good thing, as it makes events like the Ramble that much more sacred. Or, it leaves us feeling extremely disappointed that these essential values that were once part of making and sharing music in this manner are a lost cause on today’s concert scene.

As music fans, we need to continue to foster these types of communal music experiences by celebrating and contributing to them: make the road trip, pay the premium, bring a friend, share the music, write a blog post, do whatever it takes to make these experiences part of a time tested tradition and not a history lesson.

If music is your passion, or community is what you value most, or you just love to celebrate and have fun, you must attend The Midnight Ramble. Take the back roads to Woodstock. Drop your pumpkin pie off at the General Store. Stand in line and make new friends. Get inside and find your spot. Join in with the band. Open up and allow the Ramble to work its magic on you.

Once you let it, you won’t regret it.