Archive for the ‘Andrew Wyatt / Dirty Santa’ Category

Holding the Golden Ticket | Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble with moe.

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Holding the Golden Ticket – Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble w/moe.

Contributing Writer – Garret K. Woodward

Contributing Photographer – Andrew “Dirty Santa” Wyatt

My nose was almost touching the windshield.

The road was dark and a slight rain diluted my vision. Desperately looking for the correct address, I was lost on the rural backroads winding around the ancient Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. But, just when it seemed all hope was gone, numerous small red lights could be seen trickling out from the dense woods to the left.

It was a long line of taillights.

I turned down the muddy driveway. My mind raced over the unknown possibilities. I was finally going to see what the fuss was all about.

For the better part of the last decade, legendary drummer/vocalist Levon Helm (The Band) has held a series of intimate performances within a studio in his home. Though not much is known in the media over what transpires on the property, intriguing word-of-mouth rumors have emerged amid social circles in the music scene.

This folklore follows in the imaginary footsteps of The Wizard of Oz, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and along the actual lines of the mysterious Phish barn in Vermont or the living quarters of the Grateful Dead in Haight-Ashbury.

And now, here I am, with the golden ticket in my hand, ready to pull back the curtain and cross the threshold that takes hearsay and molds it into exquisite fact.

The car tires squished through the mud of Helm’s backyard. Dozens of vehicles crammed onto the land. Anonymous faces cracked open cold microbrews. Cigarette smoke, exhaled in haste, drifted into the crisp, starry night. Burn barrels dotted the road to the studio. Laughter echoed into the distance.

Entering the first floor, a potluck was strewn over several tables.

“If anyone is interested, I made potato latke,” a friendly stranger mentions, placing the homemade dish with the other appetizers, entrees and desserts which included local cheese and crackers, chili, pulled pork sandwiches and cheesecake bites.

Bellies now full, the attendees (numbering around 150) made their way upstairs, trying to locate a seat or space along the wall and balconies surrounding the stage.

Article Continues After Photos

Meandering through the crowd like the cool guys at a keg party, moe. quietly picked up their instruments and slid into “Puebla”. Bodies were tucked into every corner and dimly light crevasse of the enormous wooden barn, designed with cathedral ceilings, thick crossbeams and cozy nooks ideal for snuggling with an east coast mama.

The audience surrounds the band in this Mad Max fashion, as if they were performing in the Thunderdome and had to prove their worth before they were allowed to leave. It was a surreal feeling to be within an arm’s length of a group you have the utmost respect and admiration towards.

To watch their fingers flick guitar notes, their feet tap pedals, their voices discuss technique between selections, their hands pound equipment, their faces showing slight wrinkles of years on the road and their mouths smiling in reflection of the moment brings a whole new appreciation to their craft. It’s a rare sentiment, one I can only attribute to the intimacy of the ramble.

Paying homage to their homeland of New York and the northeast, the band thanked the frenzied listeners with a stretched “Rebubula” and poignant “New York City”. The energy of the hour-long set filled the space like an overblown balloon, ready to burst at any given time.

“For musicians, this is a pretty inviting environment. It’s inspiring,” said moe. guitarist Chuck Garvey. “The Band has a big influence on us, just in making everything sound real and earthy and kind of gritty, not overdoing anything. You want to speak plainly with your instrument, sing really well-constructed songs, done directly and getting simple in the best way possible. Being here brings out that other part of our personality.”

Between sets, a cold breeze filters into the sauna-like room when many head outside for another drink or cigarette. A handful of snowflakes tumble from the sky. Downstairs, the curious wander the hallways of the Helm residence, looking at family picture collages, past articles, two Grammy awards or Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee honor proudly displayed.

Going for another helping of pulled pork, one finds themselves picking away at the feast alongside moe., who, on top of hungry, also took interest in the artifacts and mementos lining the never-ending walls.

While going to the bathroom, an odd thought occurs, “I’m peeing in Levon Helm’s toilet”. Surely this is a notion shared by many and there are probably all kinds of weird things floating through the minds scattered about.

It is an awkward feeling trekking around the ambiance of revered man only seen from afar, in movies or black and white photos. Helm has created a magical castle for himself and lovingly invites any to partake in his happiness.

But, as soon as I wash and dry my hands, I hear foot-stomps coming through the ceiling. The structure shakes. Muffled voices shout and cheer. It only means one thing.

Levon has taken the stage.

Sitting behind his drum kit, Helm sways to horn section solos, guitar riffs or the soothing vocals of Teresa Williams and Amy Helm (his daughter). The group steps into a variety of territories. In a matter of minutes, they can go from honky-tonk to big band, rock to Latin, alternative country to Bourbon Street mania.

With the most delicate of precision, you can’t take your eyes off Levon. His gentle tapping mesmerizes the audience. I look over and see moe. drummer Vinnie Amico caught in a trance, watching Helm, trying to figure out the tricks of the elder statesman.

“I kept looking at his left hand. He shuffles a lot and being so influential on me, I had to watch and see how he does it,” Amico said. “Since I was 18, I’ve played in bands that play The Band music. All of their stuff has an influence on what I do today.”

Howling into the heavens, Helm has a grin ear-to-ear when “Ophelia” kicks in. The entire barn gyrates and sings together like a church revival on the Louisiana bayou. Guitarist Larry Campbell throws bare-knuckle licks. Pounding the keys with a thunderous fury, pianist Brian Mitchell looks Helm directly in the eye as the two belt out the lyrics burned into the memory of those with good taste in music.

Stepping out from behind the drums, Helm grabs the mandolin and joins his daughter for “Deep Ellum Blues”. Time slows down when the duet sings to each other, radiating a love on found within in the confines of song and family.

Lining the heater bordering one side of the stage, moe. guitarist Al Schnier and Garvey mouth the words to “Tennessee Jed”. Helm hums the Grateful Dead staple with such joy, you start to count your blessings in crossing paths with this unforgettable sight blossoming for all to hold in their hearts from this point forward.

The pure emotion is unrelenting. Proudly introducing his old colleague from Arkansas, rockabilly guitar legend C.W. Gatlin, Helm pats his friend on the back and welcomes him to paint a few strokes onto his musical canvas.

Temptation, isolation and redemption tumble from each selection, an ironic and touching aura. Williams commands the listener. Her chilling vocals provoke not only goosebumps in those around her, but tears in the eyes of those who take her for her word, immersing themselves in the staggering physical and melodic beauty she shares.

Joining the ensemble, Schnier and Garvey strapped on their acoustics, ready to tackle “The Weight”. Trading verses in a round-robin style, the immortal tune forever tied together those onstage and off.

The night was over, but the memories had been set in motion.

Creeping back down the driveway, strangers now friends waved goodbye, wishing others well and making plans for the next rendezvous. The directional light pointed right.

I spent the rest of the four hour drive trying to make sense of the evening. I left with truth and clarity, but what remained was the simple fact I had truly witnessed passion in its purest form.

Winter Carnival 2011

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Medieval Times – 2011 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

Contributing Photographer – Andrew “Dirty Santa” Wyatt

Contributing Writer – Garret K. Woodward

In it’s 114th year, the renowned Saranac Lake Winter Carnival showcased the best, brightest, and boldest of the Adirondack Mountains. With “Medieval Times” as this year’s theme, the spectacle once again became a beacon-of-light for Upstate New York.

The centerpiece of the festitivites, the Saturday afternoon parade operated at full-strength with viking ships, lawn-chair ladies, and hordes pillaging the streets in the name of old-time debauchery and mischief.

Reuniting for a rare two-day run, the Ominous Seapods rode into the raucous mountain community on Feb. 11th and 12th. On hiatus for the better part of a decade, the jam-rock group has been dearly missed in these parts.

Mixing a unique brand of progressive rock and backwoods folk (akin to moe., Strangefolk, and Phish), they provided an endless stream of soul and passion for the overzealous audience packing into The Waterhole, a venue as beautifully aged and revered as the band itself.

JAM CRUISE 9 by Dirty Santa

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Contributing Writer/ Photographer :  Andrew Wyatt [ ]

I was warned.

“You better pack a Santa diaper cuz you’re gonna shit your Santa pants!” exclaimed one veteran of Jam Cruise in a text message before I packed my trademark red sequin suit for my first trip for the week-long music festival set on a 13-story cruise ship bound for the Caribbean.

As a nine year veteran of the Burning Man arts festival in the Nevada desert, I was prepared the spectacle of Jam Cruise that’s akin to a floating Mardi Gras.

With over 2,000 costumed participants bouncing to a non stop cacophony of live music through every deck, hallway, and stage on the ship, I felt instantly at home.

What was overwhelming about Jam Cruise was how instantly everyone felt at ease and felt at home. Musicians, bringing a mix of funk, blues, folk and word beat rhythms, played harder and longer while also feeling relaxed with each other and their enthusiastic fans. Each day through the wee hour bleary-eye dawns impromptu guitar and tambourine jam sessions dotted the deck. My favorite came with Nathan Moore leading a “You Are my Sunshine” sing-along on a sidewalk deck for one sunrise.

As for the audiences, even before the MSC Poesia chugged its way from its Port Everglades berth, Jam Cruise participants flitted happily around each other like glowing obits of fireflies over the backyards of forgotten youth. As sun set and the first notes of music splayed into the warm South Atlantic air, cruisers set out to greet each other as packs of porno clowns, zebras, bananas, unicorns, and numerous other costumed alter egos. People didn’t simply want to meet each other, they wanted to know each other.

A particularly poignant moment came to me after a port stop in Roatan, Honduras. A young couple that I spent the previous evening with dancing and laughing, approached me with a gift they had bought at a shop on shore. That evening I was dressed in my Santa suit, and as they handed me a beautiful brightly painted porcelain figurine, they announced, “We just knew that Santa needs to get a Christmas present too, so we got you a little something.” I was so overwhelmed by their kindness I choked back tears when I hugged them both.


In a quiet moment that night, I reflected on Jay and Erin’s openness. I watched dark waves ripple along the ship’s bow and the corners of my mind. I thought of Thornton Wilder’s character, Emily Webb from the play “Our Town” who wonders aloud at the end of her life,” Does anyone realize life while they are still living?” For me that question is haunting and difficult to answer. But, at least for that week, on that boat the answer, I was shown by others that the answer was a resounding “yes.”

It would’ve been difficult for even for the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge combined to ignore the Christmas spirit among cheerful and trusting folks on the cruise. Late the last night I felt fatigued and sat in deck chair with a blank stare. Brock Butler of Perpetual Groove stopped in front of me, leaned over and drew the shape of a smiley face in the air in front of me. I broke into a smile and thanked him for the gentle reminder that even as the festival drew to a close it still wasn’t too late to let my heart grow three sizes too large.

The emotional scale was matched by the impressive scale of the cruise ship. The MSC Poesia, an Italian owned vessel, and is named for the Italian word for “poetry.”  On first glance I wasn’t reminded much of poem. I was thinking more on a Biblical scale, like a modern day Noah’s Ark with indoor plumbing. The floating behemoth was christened in 2008 by film actress Sophia Loren. Though, it’s not the largest cruise ship on the seas it is a mobile symbol to Western economic affluence. It weighs in at 59,000 tons, and loaded with restaurants, night clubs, an art gallery, a two-story theatre, full spa, and miniature golf course. Thirteen elevators connected all the nooks and crannies together into a gleaming Las Vegas at sea.

As I stood on the deck of the ship the last night I turned and saw a passenger hoist a beer in the air and shout, “A toast to you all! I feel the love!” Still holding his beer heavenward he laughed and shouted, “But what does it all mean?!?”  His playful, but unanswerable question lingered in my thoughts. Jam Cruise is disorienting as it is euphoric. Though travel on the boat was stable to the point it was barely perceptible that the ship was in motion; yet, the festival capsized previously held expectations of what I believed about the goodness in people. Unleashed from the moorings of life’s daily grind, Jam Cruise placed my feet on a faraway shore feeling something like hope. Perhaps there is hope that we can treat one another kinder and gentler at home as we can at sea. I began the trip wondering if I needed to bring a diaper, and instead, I returned with a life-preserver.

The Infamous Stringdusters | Trampled By Turtles

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

The Infamous Stringdusters / Trampled By Turtles

Higher Ground – Burlington, Vermont – November 9, 2010

Contributing Writer – Garret K. Woodward
Contributing Photographer - Andrew Wyatt
Warming the chilled souls of late fall in New England, bluegrass sensations The Infamous Stringdusters and Trampled By Turtles wandered into the Queen City with a dose of rhythm, passion, and the emotionally healing power of string instruments.
“We’ve played two songs and I’ve broken two strings already,” guitarist Dave Simonett (Trampled By Turtles) playfully remarked to the roar of the crowd.
Both groups harness beauty found not only in the heartache of loss, but also the uprising of hope amid the chaos. Ghosts of our past drift from the depths of our mind. While Trampled By Turtles paid homage to The Rolling Stones (“Dead Flowers”), The Infamous Stringdusters showcased a striking take on U2 (“In God’s Country).
They effortlessly grab your attention like a pretty girl alone in the corner at a hoedown. You are flung onto the dance floor, never once losing your balance, never once losing sight of the objective, which is sincerity and a jolly good time.
It is an encounter initiated solely in the embracing tones of bluegrass.

2010 Bear Creek Photos

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Contributing Photographer : Andrew “Dirty Santa” Wyatt [ ]