The Barn (Levon Helm Studios), Woodstock, NY

The Barn

The Barn is not a roadside attraction, but it’s definitely a destination.  It was built by Levon Helm, drummer for The Band, in Woodstock, N.Y., where he lived until he died in 2012 (his house is right next to The Barn). The structure is home to Levon Helm Studios and the legendary Midnight Ramble Sessions, which Helm began in 2004 after his recovery from throat cancer. The sessions drew (and still do) people from the local area as well as from around the globe, not to mention it’s a favorite stop for many musicians who like to drop in and jam. The Barn provides an intimate setting for performances – less of a concert and more like a gathering of friends in a rustic living room. In keeping with that family feel, guests are encouraged to bring a dish to pass at a potluck supper held prior to the performances.

The Barn is located on Plochmann Lane – just look for the mailbox that says “160.” Visitors to the Ramble wind their way along a dirt road to the end where their name is checked off a reservation list (there are no tickets).  The line waiting to get in is an interesting one – old, young, professionals, hippies – all there for one reason: a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience. And an experience it is indeed – one that is so unique that it’s hard to describe, beginning with standing in that line.

I was there to see Jackson Browne, and I’ve never met such wonderful people in my life. I had to use a cane because of a bad hip that prevented me from standing too long. My friends took care of me by setting up a camp chair in line while the people around us offered to assist any way they could. One of those people had been to the Ramble numerous times and said that it would be all we would talk about for a week – he was right. Once the doors opened, we walked into the main room where folding chairs were set up; stairs led to a second floor where people can stand around a railing to look down on the simple stage. It’s a beautifully constructed building; I’d guess it holds about 200 people. You are welcome to bring in your own drinks, as long as they’re in plastic cups, and you can come and go as you please. One strict rule, however, is no photos – and it is a strict rule. It’s tempting because you’re so close to the performers, but the ban is one of the things that makes the Ramble special and retains the family atmosphere. Outstanding performances by The Dirt Farmer Band (featuring Levon’s daughter, Amy) and Browne culminated in a joint rendition of “The Weight.” As we walked toward the car afterward, I found myself mumbling to my friends, “What just happened in there?”

I could keep going, but this post is already longer than it should be. Many thanks to the staff for their courtesy to me and for “keeping it goin’” as Levon requested, and a special shout-out to two gentleman – John and his brother, David – who stood with us inside and were so gracious at helping me get up, sit down, and stand. You left too fast for me to say “thank you,” so this will have to suffice. It was great to meet you. I greatly appreciated the conversation and all your help.  Visited July 2013.

Related post: Big Pink, West Saugerties, NY


10 Responses

  1. I liked your description. I had the same experience with the friendly fans and the loving atmosphere. I saw Levon in a Ramble about two months before he died. It was an amazing show. What a loss to music and to America. Here’s what I wrote about that show if you are interested:

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Marcy! I’m glad you related to the review. I went with friends who had been there four times before, all when Levon played. I wish I could’ve been there then.

  3. I was at the Friday show with Jackson Browne. I had the same experience.. I’ve been talking about it for a week. Great post about the whole atmosphere. Thanks!

  4. So glad to hear you felt the same, Matt. I’ve seen Jackson before, but this took it to a whole new level. I’m beginning to think people who attend a Ramble really become connected by the experience. Hope I can get there again sometime . . .

  5. Levon would want nothing more than for those to continue what he envisioned and built within the walls of the barn. It’s all about the music and to be loving and trusting of each other. Maybe Amy can carry the torch with an endowment fund?

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Eric. A great way to sum up what it’s all about! Although not an endowment fund, there was a fundraising effort; I don’t know whether it’s still current: Maybe I’ll catch you at a Ramble sometime!

  7. I was there when the barn was being constructed. I would take little blond Amy for a walk through the woods with my camera. In the evenings They got together and jammed. Paul butterfield, Eric Anderson and sound innovator Eddie Offord were just a few of the frequenters that dropped in to jam. I remember the enthusiasm and energy of Levon and how the warmth of his even temperment inspired these amazing artists. He lived in the rooms overlooking the studio and we had many late nights of warmth in the bitter cold outside. Great memories!!!!

  8. I actually lived in the first house on the right at the beginning of Plockman Lane when my daily routine included being at the barn for jams after a great dinner at the bear cafe with the whoever happened to be there at the time.

  9. Great memories indeed! What a peaceful and fun picture you paint — how wonderful that you got to be part of it. I’m so glad you stopped by The Off Ramp to share!

  10. Yes indeed….. I remember being in town with my little red audi with Richard Manuel and him jamming at Deanies taking requests from the tourists who had no idea who he was. What a repertoire! There wasn’t one request he didn’t know and played til they closed. In the morning we had coffee at the Woodstocker …. they had great chili! Then we headed back to the barn and Levon was just making coffee! There was an underside ….. many succumbed to the drugs. Richard, Tim Hardin and Butterfield to name a few . The highs were sustaining , the lows were courted by the prevailing need to push forward. Here we are and just like Levon wanted they are keeping it going!

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