Amy Helm’s Traveling Curbside Pickup Band Brings Live Music to Your Doorstep
Live music is the lifeblood for the Woodstock, New York–based musician Amy Helm, who grew up with two musical parents, The Band’s drummer Levon Helm and singer Libby Titus. When the Covid-19 pandemic forced music venues to shutter for the unforeseeable future, Helm teamed up with Steely Dan guitarist Connor Kennedy to take their show on the road, and to doorsteps around the Hudson Valley. We caught up with Helm just as New York was approaching Phase 2 of reopening—and a few days short of her and Kennedy’s 100th show as the Curbside Pickup Band.
“As musicians, we’re out of work now, sort of indefinitely. That’s been a real shift, to be unemployed for this long and not really have a clear sense of what’s coming around the bend and how it will come back, and in what capacity. To tell you the truth, it really creates a lot of anxiety and fear in me, and certainly [in] my friends that I’ve talked to, because for most of us, this is what we’ve gotten good at. It’s what we do. I’m hoping that next summer we’ll be able to work again. It’s just an unprecedented time in the world.
My dad was a musician as well, and he always said to me, ‘You know, if you’re not working—if a musician isn’t working, your head doesn’t work right, you can’t think straight.’ And I know what he means. For players, there’s a kind of centering force when you do a gig, and you interact with people in an audience. You take that leap, and even if it’s a bad gig, and you have a fight with the guitar player, you get home, and somehow, on that drive home, all the noise in your head has shifted, and you think about things differently. I think every human being has that experience with different things that act as that lightning rod for the way you process and understand the world.
Some time ago, I started volunteering for an organization called Musicians On Call, which brings musicians room-to-room to hospitals in New York City and other cities across the country. It had a huge impact on my heart and my head, and on my perspective of why we even started doing any of this in the first place. If you can sing something for somebody and it uplifts them, or brings them out of their head for a minute—that’s the job of a musician.
One day recently, I was standing on my lawn and a car slowed down—I live way out in the country, in Woodstock—and this woman, who turned out to be an acquaintance, had a beautiful bouquet of ranunculus and anemones and was handing out flowers to anybody standing outside her door. Witnessing those tiny moments of warmth and interaction were so profound during the very heart of all that isolation. So I thought, What if I could pull up to someone’s porch and sing a song, far enough away to be at a safe distance, and offer a little pinprick of light? The isolation of these past few months has felt so thick, so dense.
I ran the idea by a dear friend of mine, Connor Kennedy, who’s a guitar player and singer, and [he] was down to do it with me. We just started doing it, and it’s been very, very powerful. There’s nothing more satisfying than connecting with people, you know, even if it’s from thirty feet away, and it sure has kept my head sane and helped me practice a little bit—keeping my voice in some kind of shape and keeping some joy in my own heart about it. I think it’s brightened up a few people’s days, too.
Live music is so important. It’s so visceral and brings such an instant connection. For me, the rare times that I get to go out and see a band or singer that I love feel like such a change on a cellular, molecular level. Live music can change us, and then change the direction of our lives, whether we’re playing it or hearing it as fans.”