Campfire Preview: Amy Helm and The Handsome Strangers

by: Jeff Cavanaugh
August 16, 2014

No one ever said it was an easy transition — going from a backup singer to having your name in the lights and fronting a band — but Amy Helm is definitely making it look that way.

After years of lending her powerful voice to the songs of many other bands, Amy Helm is on the brink of releasing her first solo record with her band, The Handsome Strangers, and she could not be more excited.

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“I love singing background, and I love fronting my band — it’s all been really exciting and fun for me,” Helm said in a recent telephone interview. “I can’t say I love one more than another, but it certainly feels natural and it feels good to work on this part of my singing.”

Her new album, which she hopes will be released sometime sooner rather than later, will have a number of original songs and a handful of covers she’s played through the years.

“We’ve been building this band for almost a year now and we’ve got a pretty loud, fun, very danceable band happening,” Helm added. “I have a fantastic group of guys who are very versatile and because of that the music takes a lot of different shapes and presents itself a lot of different ways — which is also a real treat to get to sing against and follow that line of creativity.”

A few of the cover songs her album will be familiar — including one by Sam Cooke — but the cover that is the most meaningful is a Martha Scanlan song that her famous father, The Band’s Levon Helm, played drums on for her record.

“She’s like a sister to me, and I’m also one of her biggest fans so it was wonderful to sing and play her song — and play it with my dad,” Helm said. “When I hear it now and hear the intention and the joy that all of us were playing it with — that one stands out to me.”

Helm is part of the Friday night lineup at the Campfire Outdoor Adventure & Music Festival that is running from Aug. 29-31 in Lakewood, Pa. — an easy ride up I-81 from the Harrisburg region.

“It’s going to be close enough to home — a nice easy commute from there — and we’re really looking forward to it,” Helm said about the festival. “It sounds like a pretty amazing festival and a good hang.”

Lakewood is only 95 miles from her home in Woodstock, NY, where Amy Helm spent many nights performing with her father and the Ramble Band.

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The Midnight Rambles were a very special series of shows that my dad had created and they really got a life of their own. The music got going and the scene got going up there,” Helm said. “The barn has a really special vibe to it and I think that absolutely remains intact and very present even after my dad’s passing. That barn he built is just made for music — it’s a very special venue and a very special place to go see music.”

And now that she is working on her own music and touring full time, she certainly keeps in mind everything she learned and heard from her father.

“It’s funny, every time I play now and every time I’m on the road — every single day — I think of something else that he passed onto me; or something else that he talked to me about; or a story he told me; or a way to be street smart; a way to relax and have fun; to let stuff roll off of you — all of it,” Helm added. “The more I play — every time I play — something will come to mind. He was certainly full of wisdom about all of it.”

And while she’s currently on tour with Amos Lee, Amy Helm definitely has her calendar circled for the Campfire Festival — not only to perform, but to check out the rest of the impressive lineup.

“I’m very excited to listen to Charles Bradley — I’ve heard him before — and I see a lot of cool bands there that I haven’t discovered yet,” Helm said. “We’re so excited to come and we can’t wait to get there to hang out with everybody. Tell everyone to come say hey — come hang out with us and come dance!”

To find out more about Amy Helm, you can visit her website, find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Tickets are available online and come in a variety of packages, some of which include tickets and accommodations in an on-site, fully-equipped cabin. Other affordable stay and play options include RV passes and general and VIP camping options.

For more information, visit the Campfire Festival website or you can follow the latest updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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