[Interview] Marco Benevento talks life in Woodstock, Music, and Levon's Barn
About one hundred miles north of New York City sits a county called Ulster, within this county lies the cities of Woodstock, Saugerties, and Kingston. These towns, in particular, have organically become a mecca for artists and musicians. Countless albums have been produced here. Music from Big Pink the debut studio album of The Band released in 1968 was recorded in West Saugerties. The Basement Tapes were born in Saugerties too in a new house with pink siding.
Levon Helm Studio sits up in Woodstock, in the woods slightly off the main drag. The studio has become iconic if not a sacred venue where people come to experience truly beautiful music. This place birthed all this and it's worth noting. Plenty of new and talented musicians have made their way up north of the city and have thrived. They are building a neat little community of shared creativity and craft. I got to talk to Marco Benevento about Woodstock, Levon's Barn and the music community that he has become a part of. I was humbled and inspired by his eagerness to share his stories.
How long ago did you come up to Woostock/Saugerties?
I came up here like exactly six years ago, 2011.
Since you moved up here have you noticed a resurgence of art and music to this area?
Yes in a way. In a way, I am new to this community so I am wondering if I am just discovering what has been here forever and just being surprised at what has been here forever or if it's something that’s resurging like you’re mentioning. I have a feeling that it is a combination of both. Where it is, some city folk who move up here that have kids possibly or don’t but maybe musicians who come up here to get out of the rat race. They discover young kids like Connor Kennedy and his band and Liz and Dan and Amy Helm and all of sudden they realize there are so many amazing musicians here and there a lot of young kids growing up here seeing all the amazing musicians.
I just went to my kid's spring concert. They go to the Woodstock Day School up here in Woodstock. My kids are in fourth grade and in first grade and the music program is amazing. The music teachers are great and the kids see all this music. They go to Levon’s barn and they see people play. They go to the Paul Greene Rock Academy, there’s a lot of music up here and there’s a lot of options to learning how to play music up here. It’s like this little mecca there is some sort of vortex around here. It probably, of course, stems from the Music Festival and Bob Dylan living up here and Garth Hudson lives up here and even on the heavier jazzier sort of tip, Jack DeJohnette lives up here. There is also this heavy experimental music scene up here and jazz scene as well. It’s kind of awesome to be surrounded by because everyone wants to include you in any way shape or form as a musician, whether you’re a seven-year-old kid or a fifty-five-year-old, everybody is down to talk music and to play music.
Is that what attracted you to up here?
Yes. It’s definitely something that attracted me up here. I knew there were some musicians I didn’t know the extent and the intensity and the amazing musicianship, I didn’t know how amazing it was going to be. I knew there were some musicians up here but I didn’t know that the people who are musicians up here really can do a lot of different things. They can sing, play guitar, play piano, play bass. They are very knowledgeable on lots of different instruments and lots of different bands. I knew there was a little bit of a community up here but I didn’t know how rich it was gonna be until I moved here.
Going on tour and touring around the country a lot over the last fifteen years. I’ve played Mountain Jam a bunch and I’ve driven up here to play The Bearsville Theatre a bunch with bands that I was in, and I always liked coming up to Woodstock. It was this cool community just north of the city. I wanted to be relatively close to my parents who live in Northern New Jersey and I wanted to be relatively close to the city because I do play there a lot.; at the same time, I also play in San Francisco and Denver a lot. Anyway, being close to the city was cool. It’s an ideal little community right outside of the city.
Did you build your studio next to your house?
Yeah, my studio is like twenty feet from my house. It’s just a small little room next to my house.
Have other people recorded there or is it for personal use only?
Yes. I’ve heard of him.
Nice, yeah when I first moved here he came here and I did keyboards overdubs for his record. He put out a record called Shut Down The Streets, and I did all the keyboard work on that and we did all that here in my studio. I’ve done stuff for Chris Maxwell. He lives up here. He actually does all the music for Bob’s Burgers, which is super cool. I’ve done some accordion overdubs for some of those scenes and piano overdubs. I’ve done some stuff for the comedian Trevor Moore and Amy Helm I’ve recorded with her. I’ve done a lot of stuff here. Mainly it’s for me because it’s right next to my house and I am here all the time but I do a ton of overdubs here for people. Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, all sorts of folks.
It’s a really fun room. When people walk into this room people sort of stop for a minute and look around. Everything is on all the time. There are keyboards on every wall and drums. It’s a great creative space. Actually, my friend who moved here who plays with Amos Lee his name is Zach he came here and named this place “Inspiration Station”.
Let’s talk a little about Levon’s Barn it is a pretty iconic venue up here.
Yeah. It’s like a museum or a church.
It really is. I have been to a few rambles. I bring people over there when they come to visit because it is an experience in and of itself.
It really is. I’ll never forget the first time I went there. My friend Joe Russo was playing with Phil Lesh and Levon and everyone was jamming. People knew I was moving up and it was before I had moved, it was like a couple months before. I was about to move to Woodstock and I went to this show and met everybody. We all kind of knew each other from random festivals and just being a musician in the New York area. Just knowing people's names and sort of knowing them, to finally meet everybody was really nice and they were extremely inviting. They were like "when are you going to come up to play?" I wound up playing with Levon and Phil and Joe and Larry and you’re just totally blown away.
It was just one of those things where you are like this is the community I’m moving into. The audience is just super respectful. The venue is just this gorgeous venue that people want to sit down and have that experience, that release, and they get it at that show. They get to see amazing top notch musicianship and professionalism and singing. Then they also have that powerful feeling of what music ultimately should be doing to you, making you feel really thankful, and grateful, and positive. You can feel like the tangles in your brain are coming out. There is just a good, good feeling over there and just to know that that was nearby was amazing.
Then when I moved here, Amy Helm immediately brought me back to The Barn and we recorded. I did piano overdubs for her record. We were doing all these different tunes. We were playing this more country sort of sounding tune and I was like who’s that on drums and she said “that is actually my dad on drums” and I was like “Woah! that’s amazing” it was after he had passed away, so playing with Levon in the headphones, I was like “Woah this is like wow”. It was a powerful afternoon.
Wow. Well, to finish up I will say that I am looking forward to the F.A.R.M Fest Super Jam you’ll be playing in.
How random is that? I am excited. It is going to be amazing. Karina basically put that all together. I was like "you go girl, that’s awesome, I’ll do that any day".