Since the Canadian-American roots-rock group The Band formed in the early 1960s it’s become one of the most iconic groups in popular music, and now it’s being paid tribute for its songs about common folks.
The Weight, including members of The Band and featuring the Levon Helm Band and the Rick Danko Group, will play those songs with a performance at the State Theatre.
“The Weight,” released as a single in 1968, is The Band’s signature song. It was written by Band member Robbie Robertson about a visitor’s experiences in a town called Nazareth and has significantly influenced American popular music, having been listed at No. 41 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The song has since been covered by numerous artists, featured in a number of commercials, concerts, films and television shows and is mostly recognized by the first line of the chorus, “Take a load off Fanny/ Take a load for free.”
Although three of the core members of The Band have died, the music lives on thanks to The Weight, a fitting name for a special tribute to a seminal Americana rock collective. When it came time to name this newer band formed by two late-comers to the group, the choice was obvious.
“It seemed like a great idea, and it’s working,” guitarist Jim Weider said. “People can recognize it.”
The five-piece ensemble consists of Weider on guitar; drummer and vocalist Randy Ciarlante; Byron Isaacs on bass and vocals; Brian Mitchell on keyboards and vocals; and Marty Grebb on keyboards, vocals and saxophone.
Ciarlante played in The Band with Weider from 1991 to 1999, as well as in Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble. Grebb worked for original bassist Rick Danko, wrote songs for The Band’s 1993 album “Jericho” and wrote with original keyboardist Richard Manuel; Isaacs and Mitchell came from the Levon Helm Band. Weider had been appearing with the Levon Helm Band until Helm’s death in 2012.
Weider, a native of Woodstock, N.Y., joined The Band in 1985, previously playing in the Levon Helm All-Stars. He joined the reformed version of The Band to replace original guitarist Robbie Robertson.
“After I joined, it was me, Levon, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel,” he said. “They asked me to tour with them, and we toured together for 15 years. We made three albums and it was quite a run.”
Weider’s first gig with The Band was in Dallas, opening for Crosby, Stills & Nash in front of about 30,000 people.
“They were all about just letting me play the music,” he said. “I had played some of those tunes before, and I knew them from growing up and being a fan because they were my hometown band. So it really just came naturally, and they pretty much let me do my own thing.”
The songs of The Band have reverberated across history for decades and continue to speak to millions of people.
“They were like the first Americana band,” Weider said. “They were just really about the common folk, because it’s real American music. It’s a cross between rhythm and blues, New Orleans, rock ’n’ roll, country and folk — all mixed together. To me it’s the real American music, and I think the working-class person can identify with the songs. It’s all about the songs — they’re so strong and so well-written and just so unique for the times.”
The Weight performs all the favorites, but band members also like to dig deep into the catalog of all of The Band’s records.
“We’re doing things like ‘The Rumor,’ and we’re doing stuff that I wrote, like ‘Remedy’ from the ‘Jericho’ record,” Weider said. “We’re also doing ‘Atlantic City,’ a song that (Bruce) Springsteen wrote for us for the ‘Jericho’ record.”
Besides playing the music of The Band and living a dream as a musician, Weider is just as thrilled with the reception the group has received from fans across the country.
“They’re really digging it,” he said. “We just got back from a Southern tour and it was unbelievably great. People were singing all the tunes and standing in the aisles. It couldn’t be going better.”
The music of The Band has influenced many different bands and solo artists, from the Beatles to the Grateful Dead to Eric Clapton.
“Clapton has said it repeatedly how The Band influenced him,” Weider said. “When we did the Madison Square Garden show with Clapton for Dylan’s 30th anniversary, he said The Band changed his life. They did a masterpiece that totally changed his musical direction.”
Weider has collaborated and performed with a number of well-known musicians through the years and is grateful for those opportunities and memories.
“Everybody has a reverence to The Band’s music, and has either played in The Band or played with members of The Band,” he said. “And once we got all of these people together it just really made sense to carry on the music. We’re planning on making a completely original record starting this summer for The Weight. It should be very exciting.”