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Amy Helm’s Toronto Connection

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Guest contributor Amy Helm, daughter of the late Levon Helm and a ten-year veteran of his band, the Midnight Ramble Band, returns to Massey Hall on September 17, this time as a solo artist accompanied by her own band, The Handsome Strangers. In this exclusive post, Helm recalls her experience performing at Massey Hall as part of Ramble on the Road in 2010 and 2011, shares her excitement for Toronto and her upcoming performance as special guest to Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell.

I remember both Ramble on the Road performances at Massey Hall, and just to walk into a theatre of that stature, with that history and the immediate elegance that it holds, is such an honour. My father loved Massey Hall. He had such respect for the venue and was so proud to bring us there as a band, and proud to bring me there. When I think of Massey Hall now, I think of him and how special it was for him to play there. That’s a strong memory for me.

It will be really special to return to Massey Hall. Certainly, to have the opportunity to open the show for Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell is beyond an honour. They’re both huge influences for me and everybody in the band – all the guys in the Handsome Strangers. We just love their music and are completely thrilled to get to share the stage with them, and to do it at Massey Hall is the icing on the cake.

My connection to Toronto is of course mostly through my dad because he spent so much time there in his youth. I remember him bringing me to Toronto at various times for various shows he was doing. He would always have some old friends he would catch up with, or you know, get out and walk around the city a little bit and tell me stories about when they were young. He would talk about finishing a show and then being able to walk down the street and catch acts like Ray Charles playing on Yonge St. He talked about how vibrant the music scene was in Toronto at that time – I guess it must have been in the 60s – and he just loved it, he really claimed Canada as his second home. He was from Arkansas but had really found himself there, and so it was always exciting to go to Toronto with him and have him share with me some stories from his youth. There was a real deep affection in him for the culture and the entire scene.

Emmylou Harris performed at a Midnight Ramble, and it was a night none of us will soon forget. It was really incredible: you could hear a pin drop. The Barn, where my father hosted the Midnight Rambles, is this great small intimate space, with hemlock beams and bluestone walls, and to hear her voice in there was really a stunning thing.

We continue to do the Midnight Rambles at The Barn, but now as a concert series that really runs as a regular venue. We have groups come play there without the Midnight Ramble band, like Jackie Greene who was just there, and Grahm Nash. The Ramble Band has gotten so busy, everybody is off and doing different things now, but occasionally we will come together and have a reunion show, which is always nice.

For me, returning to perform at Massey Hall will be the highlight of my fall. I’m just so honoured and thrilled to come. It’s just such an elegant and exquisite theatre, it’s going to be fantastic.