Blue Chicken at the Levon Helm Barn

Blue Chickens Flock to Levon Helm’s Woodstock Barn for Halloween

by Kay Cordtz
Blue Chicken at the Levon Helm barn

Blue Chicken at the Levon Helm barn

Randy Ciarlante, drums

Randy Ciarlante, drums

Jim Weider

Jim Weider, guitar

Brian Mitchell

Brian Mitchell, piano/​organ/​melodica

The only thing Levon Helm loved as much as good music was a good time. He surely would have loved Halloween 2015 at his house. Blue Chicken, a band composed of former members of Helm’s bands – Jim Weider (guitar) and Randy Ciarlante (drums) from the re-​​formed Band, and Clark Gayton (trombone), Brian Mitchell (piano/​organ/​melodica) and Byron Isaacs (bass) from Helm’s Ramble band — plus Sid McGinniss (guitar) from the Letterman band demonstrated that a little fun and games needn’t diminish the power of the music. Wearing chicken hats that all but Gayton and Weider shed before the end of the first set, they began appropriately enough with the funk/​jazz number “The Chicken,” which allowed them each to stretch out and strut a little. Chicken dancing, guitar squawks and other fowl references popped up from time to time in the course of two sets of outstanding music.  With Mitchell and Ciarlante handling most of the vocals, they blazed through a repertoire including Dr. John (“Such A Night”), Van Morrison (“Cleaning Windows”), The Skatalites (“(Music is My) Occupation”), Little Feat (“Dixie Chicken”), Chuck Berry (“Back to Memphis”), The Rolling Stones (“The Last Time”), James Brown (“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”), Sam Cooke (“Change is Gonna Come”), Willie Dixon (“Little Red Rooster”), and Sam the Sham and The Pharoahs (“Wooly Bully”) and Alan Jackson (“Mercury Blues”).  To this eclectic setlist they added the customary salute to The Band (“Look Out Cleveland”), Weider’s “Remedy” and Gayton’s “Brooklyn Girls,” with Craig Santiago on drums.  A costume contest between sets let the audience choose their favorite blue chicken costume, and many of the contestants danced enthusiastically in the second-​​floor balconies throughout the show. After three + hours of music and theater, the band ended the night with “We All Had A Real Good Time.” And we sure did.

Byron Isaacs, bass

Byron Isaacs, bass & Clark Gayton, trombone

Blue Chicken

Clark Gayton, trombone & Sid McGinniss, guitar

Clark Gayton, trombone & Sid McGinniss, guitar

Blue Chicken at the Levon Helm barn

Jim Weider helps pick the winner of the “Blue Chicken” costume contest.

Photography by Madison Emond

Kay CordtzKay Cordtz has been fascinated by music and musicians since elementary school when she ran home from school every day to watch American Bandstand. Since then, she has been a newspaper reporter, political spokeswoman, government science writer and freelance chronicler of local music scenes during a 30+-year career.  She is a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism

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