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Monday, May 14, 2012


REST IN PEACE, LEVON: Music fills the air in Woodstock as Helm is buried (with slideshow)

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slide show

WOODSTOCK , N.Y.— Musician Levon Helm was laid to rest on a cemetery ridge Friday, eight days after his death, as the sounds of Dixieland jazz, singing and drumbeats pierced the afternoon sky.

Hundreds of people lined the streets in the center of town, some for three hours, waiting for Helm’s funeral procession to make its way from his home on Plochmann Lane, where a private service was held, to the Woodstock Cemetery on Rock City Road, where he was buried next to Rick Danko, a fellow member of The Band.

The procession came through town around 1:45 p.m. and included about 100 vehicles.

“I just wanted to say goodbye and send him on his way,” said Gizelle Ascione, 57, of Tenafly, N.J.

Helm — a singer, drummer and mandolin player who enjoyed newfound popularity in recent years through the “Midnight Ramble” concerts at his Woodstock home — died on April 19 at age 71 after a long battle with cancer.

A public wake at Helm’s home on Thursday drew about 2,000 people.

After the funeral procession reached the cemetery on Friday, fans, members of the media and curious local residents gathered nearby, trying to get a glimpse of the burial service.

The service was punctuated by rollicking Dixieland jazz performed by the Jaguar Memorial Band from Jackson High School in New Jersey. The band — including Larry  Campbell, the guitarist in Helm’s most recent group; guitarist Jimmy Vivino; and drummer Steve Jordan — played a New Orleans-style tune as it marched from the gravesite back toward the cemetery entrance after the burial.

Some spectators danced alongside the band near a fence at the cemetery’s edge, behind the Colony Café; others applauded.

When the band finished, a few snowflakes fell, and one man cried out, “It’s snowing for Levon!”

A steady beat of drums during the burial service could be heard in the town’s business district, a short distance away.

Vocalists sang soflty, their selections including “On My Journey Home.”

Among those gathered near the cemetery, Rick Pantell, 60, a musician who lives in Woodstock, said Helm was a beloved local resident.

“He was a real, real part of this community,”  Pantell said.

Astrologer Marian Tortorella, 61, also of Woodstock, said she had a dream about Helm recently in which his “eyes shone like diamonds on the water when the sun hits the water.”

“It was beautiful,” she said.

Amparo Velez of Olivebridge said Helm gave the gift of music.

“He gave us heaven on Earth,” Velez said.

Abbe Sue Graber, 51, of Woodstock, sang songs as she waited for the funeral procession.

After she finished a song, Graber said softly, “Hush little baby, don’t you cry. Thank you, Levon.”

The Band was made up of Helm, Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel, and its first album was 1968’s “Music From Big Pink,” recorded in a pink house in West Saugerties. That album and its follow-up, “The Band,” remain landmark albums of the era, and songs such as “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up on Cripple Creek” have become rock standards.

Manuel died in 1986, Danko in 1999.

Early on, The Band backed Bob Dylan on his electric tours of 1965-66 and collaborated with him on the legendary “Basement Tapes,” also recorded at Big Pink.

On his website last week, Dylan called Helm “one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation.”

Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998, and his voice was reduced to a raspy whisper, but he persisted as a musician, ultimately winning four Grammy Awards.

Helm also is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted in 1994 as a member of The Band.

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