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'Life is a Carnival' with Johnny Harper & Carnival

Levon Helm, performing
Levon Helm, performing
Photo by Rob Loud/Getty Images

In honor and celebration of the musical accomplishments of The Band, Johnny Harper is celebrating their music with 3 shows in May consisting of only The Band's music. First offering is Sat., May 3rd in Oakland at Avonova, 417 Avon St. (near 51 & Telegraph) beginning at 3 PM. It's best to buy your tickets in advance for this venue, or at least make reservations by e-mail at and go to RSVP. The venue looks like a house, which indeed it is, but there is a wonderful stage at the back of the house for musical presentations. Tickets for this venue are $15.00. Next offering is in San Francisco on Sat., May 10th at St. Cyprian's Church on 2097 Turk St. (at Lyon) starting at 8 PM, (415) 424 5238. Tickets for this venue is $15.00 in advance and $18.00 at the door. Go to for advance tickets. is their website. The Final offering is presented by North Bay Hootenanny on Fri.May23rd at 8 PM. If you are in the North Bay, fear not. This is at the Sebastopol Community Center on 390 Morris St. (707) 823 1511. Tickets are $15.00,

The Band, for those of you who are of a younger generation, or are somehow unfamiliar with their music, originally existed as a Canadian-American roots/ rock group that consisted of Rick Danko (bass guitar, double bass, fiddle, trombone, vocals), Levon Helm (drums, mandolin, guitar, vocals), Garth Hudsen (keyboards, saxophones, trumpet), Richard Manuel (piano, drums, baritone sax, vocals), and Robbie Roberston (guitar, vocals). They first began coming together between 1958 through 1963 as they joined rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins under the guise of 'The Hawks'. In 1964 they broke from Hawkins and made a few singles as 'Levon and the Hawks', and 'The Canadian Squires'. Then Bob Dylan hired them for his US tour in 1965, and his world tour in 1966. Following that tour they moved with Dylan to Saugerties, NY where they made the informal 1967 recordings that became known as 'The Basement Tapes'. This, in turn, forged their 1968 debut album 'Music from Big Pink'. Because they were always 'the band' to various frontmen, Helm said the name The Band worked well when the group came into it's own. They began performing officially as The Band in 1968, with their first concert right here in the Bay Area, and went on to release 10 studio albums. Dylan continued to collaborate with them over the course of all of their careers, including a joint 1974 tour.

The original configuration of The Band ended it touring career in 1976 with an elaborate ball room performance with numerous musical celebrities and immortalized in Martin Scorcese's 'The Last Waltz', also a song by The Band, in 1978. The Band recommenced touring in 1983 without Robbie Robertson who had a solo career and was a Hollywood music producer. Following a 1986 show, Richard Manuel was found dead of an apparent suicide. The remaining 3 members of The Band continued to tour and record with a revolving door of musicians filling in for the other two. When Rick Danko died of heart failure in 1999, the group broke up for good. After recovering from throat cancer, in 1998, Levon Helm continued to perform and released several successful albums until he died from the throat cancer in 2012. The Band's 'The Weight' was listed 41st on Rolling Stone's list of '50 Greatest Songs of All Time'. Now that you know a little of the background of The Band, you say, "...and soooo?" Well, it's just that you have probably heard and sung along with many of the songs by The Band, without even knowing it's their music. A few examples are 'Daniel and the Sacred Harp', 'Last Train to Memphis', 'Last Waltz', 'The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down', 'Stage Fright', 'Up on Cripple Creek', and 'W.S. Walcott's Medicine Show'. And these are just a few. Johnny Harper will cover some of these songs, but also some that are not so well known. A total of 18 selections will be heard.

If you haven't heard of Johnny Harper, well he is something of a music legend himself, especially in the Bay Area. He is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer of recordings and shows, a musicologist, and a music historian. He leads his own 'rocking' bands and supports other well known artists. He is a solo performer, accompanying himself in complex lead/ rhythm, and fingerpicking styles on both electric and acoustic guitars. He is also a born storyteller. You come away from a performance of Johnny's knowing more about the songs, the artists, and the stories behind the songs than you could ever imagine. This concert series is a tribute to The Band's song,'Life is a Carnival' (hence the name of the concert series), and the band accompanying him is his own Carnival band, also a tribute to the remarkable talent that came together in The Band during the 60's through the 90's. Johnny Harper & Carnival are comprised of Johnny Harper (lead guitar, vocals), Patrick McKenna (bass, vocals), Neal Roston (keys, vocals), and Rick Alegria (drums, vocals). For these shows fiddle, mandolin, and horns will also be added. Johnny and the people in his band have worked with the likes of Maria Muldaur, Asleep at the Wheel, Katie Webster, The Drifters, Mary Wells, Big Joe Turner, and many more great musicians.

You've got plenty to do this May. Take a break and come out to one of these shows...or all three! You'll come away with a big ol' smile on your face, and your toes tappin', your knees slappin', and your hands clappin'!!!