In one of the Grammys’ more touching moments on Sunday evening, an all-star crew of musicians – including Elton John, Mumford & Sons, the Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Mavis Staples and producer T Bone Burnett – joined forces to pay tribute to the late Levon Helm and other musicians lost in the past year with a spirited cover of The Band‘s Music From Big Pink classic “The Weight.”
“As we commemorate the passing of these great men and women, we remember the teachers and students of Sandy Hook whose songs unfortunately ended too soon,” John remarked before cranking out the opening piano notes of the performance.
In the last years of his life, Helm – who died from cancer in April at age 71 – would hold “midnight rambles” in his barn in Woodstock, New York, drawing in musicians from My Morning Jacket to Lucinda Williams to join him for multi-hour, freewheeling jam sessions. Sunday’s tribute to the Band drummer and vocalist felt much like another ramble, although one without its principal mastermind behind the kit.
The Grammys cover of “The Weight” was a gigantic group-hug: John played piano while the other featured performers traded off on vocal duties. Brown, John and Marcus Mumford each chipped in with one verse apiece, but it was the two female performers who stole the spotlight: Howard spiced up her verse with grizzly, rough-and-tumble charm and Staples, acting far younger than her 73 years, remained howling into the mike long after the song’s final note rang out.