On Saturday night, August 7th 1976, I showed up for work at Alice’s early.It
was the busiest night of the week, and had the ingredients to be the biggest
night of the year, requiring extra prep and as many rolled silverware set ups as
The headline group playing down the road at the Music Barn was The Band.
The Music Barn was set into a beautiful hillside field.
Late summer meadows sloped down in a semicircle to the stage below.
When Jimi Hendrix finished his set at Woodstock playing” Hey Joe” and
walked off the stage, that was not the end of the music.
The tribe found the Music Barn and it became a non stop gathering every
I once made a mix tape of The Band’s best songs and live performances.
It became the soundtrack for a road trip in the summer of 1972, as I drove my
Black VW Beetle through the mountains of Colorado. Levon Helm’s voice was
at home, driving through Leadville on the way to Lincoln Gulch just outside of
I listened to “The Night They Drove Ol Dixie Down” possibly twenty times in
just a couple of days, learning the lyrics and singing along with Levon
“Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville trainTill Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks againIn the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely aliveBy May the tenth, Richmond had fell, it’s a time I remember, oh so well….”
Then, here it comes, yelling along with Levon, the chorus, “The night they
drove ol dixie down and all the bells were ringin’……”
Between the time I started the tape playing and arrived at my campsite two
days later,the story of the song had taken such a hold on me that I, a jewish
kid from MiamiBeach had completely merged with the main character Virgil
Caine. I worked on that Danville train, I had a wife in Tennessee and my
brother had been killed by a Union soldier.
Levon was from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas. His parents Nell and Diamond
filled their home with blues, country and bluegrass playing broadcasts from
the Grand ole Opry .Levon knew by age six, he was going to be a musician.
The energy of The Band as they walked into Alice’s, along with their friends,
partners and a few of the crew, carried the ovations of thousands of fans, and
still reverberated from the heavy bass drums Levon was known for.
Their incoming conversations and banter never missed a beat as they took
over thedining room.
They were still on stage.
They didn’t notice the waitstaff as we stood in the wings off to the side.
Soon after they sat, most of the water glasses on the table needed refilling.
I began the first round, looking over at Levon and remembered Virgil
In the winter of ’65. I reached for his glass on his left side, and carefully placed
it refilled, exactly where he had left it. As I pulled my arm back and began to
turn, he turned his head towards me with a passing smile as he raised the
glass up, before taking a sip.
I filled water glasses, ran drink orders, cleared their plates and dirty
silverware, smilingthe whole time. I watched every setting constantly and was
able to know before theydid that something needed to be refilled, a clean
napkin would be nice or they weren’t really that into the dish they got.
After they left, and everything was cleared, cleaned and restocked, four of us
decided totap into some of the chocolate chip Haagen Das ice cream in the
walk in freezer.The cold air inside the walk-in freezer was a shock to our hot
sweat drenched skin,which had soaked through our clothes.We each turned
over an empty milk crate and sat down. Joey pulled down the bucketof
chocolate ice cream, pried off the cover and we dug in.
Bernie lit up a joint and passed it around.
The tightly sealed walk in freezer quickly filled the entire space with the thick
sweet smoke from his now infamous precious stash of Thai Sticks.
We were eating, smoking and laughing, having a great time, when the door
jerked open so fast, that the smoke sucked out in one big cloud into the dining
Standing there, with one hand on her hip the other holding the door open
wide, was Alice. She let in enough light so she could make out who each of us
was. “what the fuck !!!” she screamed.
I felt myself turn pale. The high, like the smoke, got sucked out of my brain.
“do you have any idea how expensive that shit is?!” she screamed at us.
Continuing, she ordered us firmly to “put the lid back on and get the fuck out
of my freezer!!!”
The smoke had all cleared by then, and there was just silence.
“sorry Alice”, each of us muttered as we filed out, occasionally catching a
glimpse into one another’s eyes, trying not to lose our shit.
The next day I walked in early as usual. I wasn’t getting paid for time worked
before my scheduled dinner shift. I didn’t care.
It was just fun, and I wanted to know as much as I could about how
“Yaffe!” I hear Alice’s familiar greeting to me
“Grape leaves!” She barked at me
“I need a hundred by dinner for a private party!” she demanded.
“Sure Alice, no problem” I replied smiling back at her.
I rolled each grape leaf and remembered back to that day four years earlier
when I told my father what I wanted to do with life and his response was,
”that’s not going to happen!”
Here I was, rolling a hundred grape leaves,
And couldn’t have been happier.