When I was 20 years old in January of 1969 and a senior at Princeton, I went to work for The Band as their first tour manager. At the time most of the American music that was being played on the FM stations came out of San Francisco and Los Angeles–Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds. The whole aesthetic of The Band was from a parallel universe, located somewhere between the fiction of Faulkner and Willa Cather, the blues of Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson, the photography of Walker Evans and Robert Frank and the harmonies of the Carter Family.
It was an aesthetic that endured and I spent last weekend immersed in it at the end of Grammy week. On Friday I went to the Musicares tribute to Bruce Springsteen. The highlights of the night were provided by the young bands that are directly in the genetic line of The Band–The Alabama Shakes, Mumford and Sons and The Zac Brown Band (with Mavis Staples sitting in).
It was this same music that dominated the Grammy show on Sunday night. Mumford and Sons won Album of the Year, The Lumineer’s, Black Keys, Zac Brown and Jack White all played brilliantly. Every bit of the music was real and the world of Auto-tune was banished from the stage. For me the final tribute to Levon Helm of The Band brought the rhythms of life full circle. Zac, Mavis, and the Mumfords did a wonderful version of “The Weight”, which was a fitting end to a great night of Americana.