Amy Helm Shines on the First Night of the Woodshed Residency Tour

This past weekend, Amy Helm kicked off her second annual Woodshed Residency Tour, a revolving run of shows that is split between three venues across New York State and Massachusetts. Night one was held at Albany NY’s The Hollow Bar, a return venue for Helm, and the ebullient and groovy kickoff show set the bar for the whole trip at a lofty height.

Each stop on the Woodshed Tour will feature guests that Helm has procured from her ever expanding roster of musical friends and colleagues. Rocking night one at The Hollow Bar was The London Souls guitarist Tash Neal, Chris Robinson Brotherhood bassist Jeff Hill, Woodstock-based guitarist and keyboardist Connor Kennedy, and Brooklyn-based Yuval Lion on drums. Just like the late Levon, her old man, Amy Helm seems to have an affinity for not only surrounding herself with incredible artists, but for getting the most out of them on stage. Together, the four-piece made for a seriously airtight jam session that on the one side played Helm’s originals very professionally, but on the other hand had a lot of daring and creative fun with a slew of cover tunes.

But Helm first dove into the former, offering confident and well received versions of songs from her first and latest album, Didn’t It Rain. “Odetta” and “Didn’t it Rain” opened the evening with a grand, almost spiritual feel. Later on, “Rescue Me” from this same album hit off with The Hollow crowd as much if not more than any other tune of the evening.

The show also included a whole mess of other covers, which as Helm has described is another element naturally built into the essence of the Woodshed Tour—Helm’s background has given her an affinity for tributing the rich and expansive americana songbook that makes up her musical universe. Every cover at the Hollow was appreciated in full, as Helm and her jam session put a shine on all of them. One of the first was a Mary Goshen cover upon which the band flexed out a breezy little jam, that eventually cascaded into an “I Know You Rider.” The apex of the evening clearly revealed itself after this in the uptempo version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” for which Helm and crew gathered around one microphone. It imbued a stripped-down feel to the buzz of the night until Neal put a cool, Dick-Dale-style guitar solo on it.

One of the strongest delivered covers was a rousing take on “Michigan” by The Milk Carton Kids—a terrific songwriting duo of brothers out of California. The end of this one featured a frenetic and trilling guitar solo from Kennedy. Other gems included a Ronnie Hawkins tune, sung by, in Helm’s words, “one of the greatest singers of all time” (Richard Manuel), and a bubbly take on The Pointer Sister’s “Yes We Can Can,” which Helm clearly was  hip-hop style verses.

For sure, Helm has implied challenges of stage fright throughout her past, but today it seems that on stage any supposed nervousness washes away pretty quickly. Every single time the music revved back up, almost uncontrollably Helm was persuaded by the energy of the band and the responsive crowd, and repeatedly took command of it all. She became the center of her little musical melting pot, and shined as a lead singer, as a troubadour, as a stage performer.

Helm and her bandmates hung out afterwards around The Hollow’s bar, trading stories with fans and taking photos. It encompassed the spirit that seems to be at the center of this Woodshed Tour, and The Hollow seems to be a no-brainer, choice spot for a tour of this musically rare nature.

The tour continues this Sunday night with another set at The Hollow, among dates at other venues such as Marlboro’s The Falcon, Northampton’s Parlor Room, and NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall.