A "Heart of Green" is an ongoing series by TheDailyGreen's founder, Deborah Jones Barrow, that reports on how artists, manufacturers, retailers and others are bringing green into the lives of mainstream consumers from coast to coast.
I saw Levon Helm and his new band play live last month.
At one of his famous Midnight Rambles up in Woodstock, in New York's Hudson Valley, where he is a local hero.
Right down the lane a bit from Big Pink. You know, where The Band's first album, Songs From Big Pink were recorded?
Helm, the storied drummer for The Band looks like an American original right out of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Thin as a rail, a little stooped, with that flinty, line-laced look that southern country people get when they grow older and their hardscrabble-aristocrat heritage collides with the rough reality of the American dirt farmer's existence. You see that same thin, spare, no-frills face on farms all over the Ozarks. In coal mines in the Appalachians. Pure-bred Dirt Farmer.
That night, Levon Helm hoisted himself and his craggy mien behind his drum set and began to play like one of the Rock Gods that he is. But he sang songs of pure Americana, with a voice reminiscent of his vocals on The Weight, but now fully soaked with living the tough life of a legend. What a night. That man and his band rocked that barn for three solid hours. The venue is intimate with fabulous acoustics, and wonders of wonders, 80% of the audience was made up of under-30 hipsters.
Last night, the 67-year-old cancer survivor won 2 awards: the Grammy for Lifetime Achievement for his work 25 years ago with The Band. And for Dirt Farmer, his brand new CD, for Best Traditional Folk Album with his new band, the Levon Helm band that includes Helm's daughter, Amy Helm, Larry Campbell, and Theresa Williams. Dirt Farmer is Helm's first studio CD since 1982.
Dirt Farmer, the title cut, is a deeply green song. It speaks to the life of a family farmer who wakes one morning to find his corn, his home and his family are all gone. Gone because the crop didn't come in so the loan didn't get paid so the farm got taken by the bank so the wife and kids high-tailed it outta there and left him alone. This is the family farm of Farm Aid. It's the family farm left behind when Big Ag took over.
But happily, it's the family farm before green people began getting back in touch with the people who grow their food. Before farmer's markets began dotting the landscape...even in the biggest cities. Before organics. Before CSAs. Before baby mesclun was on every restaurant's menu. Before localtarianism became a buzzword in glossy magazines like Gourmet.
Because of all of this, the family farm is making a comeback. Growing arugula or heirloom fingerling potatoes instead of corn perhaps. But still farming the dirt, and still farming on a human scale.
Today, the Dirt Farmer, I think, stands a better chance. Of living a happier life and a having a more successful farm.
For the health of all of us, I hope so.
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