Amy Helm Pays Tribute to Petty in Rochester

Friday October 6 at Funk n Waffles Music Hall in Rochester started with one voice and one guitar, as Woodstock’s Connor Kennedy took the stage to warm up the stage for Amy Helm. He would end the night, as part of Helm’s band, on a two-neck guitar. Three and four-part harmonies would be the centerpiece of Helm’s set, which culminated with five of Tom Petty’s songs as a part of a six-song encore. One two three four five six… though Amy Helm and band put on a show that was anything but paint-by-numbers.

Kennedy highlighted his emotive country-ready voice in a short set of fresh original folk tunes. He was appropriately decked out in denim head to toe, though he admitted a “clerical error” in not wearing his Nick Tahoe’s tee. During “Down by the Water” a voice emerged from the audience, in perfect harmony. Amy Helm, enjoying the set from the crowd, decided to sing along, beautifully “sitting in” without taking the stage. His set ended with him seated at the Rhodes, to play the title track off of his excellent just-released album, Somewhere.

Helm’s set started with a small hiccup, as Kennedy had some guitar amplification issues. The rest of the band soldiered on, extending the beginning of “Didn’t It Rain” into a funky little jam, complete with improvised vocals. They funked, but didn’t waffle. As soon as the guitar was ready, the band immediately clicked into the song proper, as if it was part of the plan all along. The rest of the set went on without a hitch, mixing and matching genres like soul, R&B, roots, country, funk and blues. “Rescue Me” took on a southern rock feel and “Cotton and the Cane,” a new song co-written with Mary Gauthier,  showed more twang, but the band’s incredible harmonies were present throughout. They mixed in two great ones from the late great Alan Toussaint, “Yes We Can Can” and “Freedom for the Stallion,” both times Helm remarked how relevant the lyrics still were in our current time. The set closed with a searing rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me in the Morning,” which opened with some thumping bass from Ted Pecchio, closed with a rollicking solo from Sean Dickson on drums, and was pure fire in between.

The encore opened with another cover, one of more recent significance, a near a capella rendition of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” with only the Rhodes and some very subtle bass and drums as accompaniment. A beautiful tribute, but wait, there’s more. Helm said they knew in the lead up to this gig, a part of a quick three-show stint, they would need to play a Petty song. But once the time grew closer, they realized they couldn’t just play one, they needed to play five. So the encore became a mini Tom Petty tribute set. They continued on, with “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” an acoustic one-mic bluegrass version of the deep cut “No Second Thoughts” and “Waiting is the Hardest Part.” Helm then held back tears as the band beautifully dedicated the hymn “Gloryland” to Petty. This immediately led into an explosive finish, with Kennedy strapping on the aforementioned double-neck guitar for a perfect “American Girl.” We give it a ten!