Many young concertgoers are so inspired that they make a goal of someday being in a band. Jim Weider took it a step further. He wanted to join The Band.
After a spot became available when Robbie Robertson left The Band, Weider did just that in 1985. He later joined the Levon Helm Band (led by The Band’s founding drummer), until Helm’s death in 2012.
At age 17, Weider already had been playing music when he attended a 1969 concert near his hometown, Woodstock, New York. It was the concert for the generation, and for the ages, really. Immortalized on film, the muddy festival famously opened with Richie Havens, then featured a young Carlos Santana and finished with Jimi Hendrix playing while soggy, exhausted hippies filed out of the farmer’s field. Just as memorable was the performance by The Band, and particularly a song with religious connotations that began with Helm on vocals, “The Weight.”
That song, featuring Crazy Chester’s dog named Jack and horse named Fanny, made No. 41 of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time published in 2004. If the song title doesn’t resonate, the refrain surely does.
“Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me”
After a posthumous jam at Helm’s famous Woodstock barn, Weider and friends wanted to continue with the music. The name of the group? The Weight Band.
“I continued on and part of the inspiration was that Levon wanted this music to keep going,” Weider told Tahoe Onstage by telephone after returning from a European tour.
“The last time I was in Belgium was with The Band in the 1990s,” Weider said. “A lot of people who were at the show in the ‘90s were at (this) show. There is definitely a following in Europe, and a lot of people know about the record.”
That album, “World Gone Mad,” was released in February. The sound is undeniably in the spirit of The Band. Each member has a distinctive voice and takes a turn on lead.
“Once I saw the reaction to us playing the songs I said we need to make a record,” Weider said. “It sounds like now but it also sounds like The Band. So the songs we’ll perform weave right into some Band classics. The reviews have been good, and acceptance of the songs has been strong.
“It really is the Woodstock sound. The Band was the Dylan, Van Morrison sound, ‘Tupelo Honey,’ all that stuff. I grew up listening to those guys. They were my big inspiration. The music that combines folk music — mountain music – with rockabilly with country blues. That’s really was The Band did. They were the first Americana band, if you want to label it.”
Tour members of The Weight Band include Weider on guitar, mandolin; Michael Bram on drums; Brian Mitchell on keyboards; Albert Rogers on bass and Matt Zeiner on keyboards.
Marty Grebb was an original member and he appears on “World Gone Mad.” His replacement Matt Zeiner “worked with Dickie Betts for years,” Weider said. “He’s an amazing singer and fantastic keyboardist.”
(Former Band member Garth Hudson and Levon Helm Band member Jimmy Vivino played in the early jams after Helm’s death but are not in The Weight. Vivino is the musical director for “Conan.”)
The Weight concerts feature songs from the new album along with Bob Dylan covers and tunes by The Band, including “Cripple Creek,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “The Weight.”
The title song and title track, ”World Gone Mad,” was written after Weider saw a number of homeless communities in Oakland, California. He had his longtime songwriting partner Colin Linden co-write the tune.
“All those people homeless sleeping under bridges; It’s unbelievable,” Weider said.
“The peace and love generation of Woodstock ended when the blow (cocaine) generation came in and then it got worse with the cyberworld. There was the disco era and things started getting ugly. A slow change of everybody thinking about themselves instead of thinking about the world or everybody else.”
Seeing and hearing The Weight Band stirs memories of a more hopeful time. In the same vein, a 50th anniversary Woodstock Festival was planned for this summer at Watkins Glen, New York. The Weight Band, Santana, John Fogerty, Jay-Z and Chance the Rapper were named to the bill. However, investor Dentsu Aegis Network has pulled out and the festival is in doubt.
“I hope (organizer) Michael Lang does make it happen,” Weider said. “It’s still up in the air. He asked us to play, but I’m not counting on it.”