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'Legends of the Road' honors The Band

It was at the "Heroes of Woodstock" tour — the 40th anniversary of the historic music festival — held at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, original site of the famed 1969 event, that Jeff Pevar last saw Levon Helm and The Band perform.

Pevar was playing bass for Jefferson Starship at the 2009 commemorative concert, with a lineup that included The Band, Mountain, Canned Heat, Big Brother and others, says the professional musician, touring and recording artist.

"Levon said, 'Jeff, you've got to come up to the Ramble sometime,' (his studio in Woodstock). I would've loved to, but logistics and timing got in the way, and it never worked out. But to be invited by the man himself was quite an honor. I know his friends and family are keeping it going, so one of these days I'll make it up there." 

When Craterian Performances' Music Hall artistic director Doug Warner hired Pevar as bandleader for his new "Legends of the Road" concert, the charismatic and Helm and his band —  bassist Rick Danko, guitarist Robbie Robertson and keyboard players Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson — came to mind.

"Last year's tribute to Bob Dylan, 'Like a Rolling Stone,' went so well," Pevar says.

What made the concert successful was that Warner, Pevar and a lineup of local musicians took on the work of the iconic Dylan and delved deep into his discography. That and the fact some of the players brought world-class experience to the show.

"We weren't trying to be a Bob Dylan cover band," Pevar says. "We played Dylan's hits, then some of his more obscure songs, and then we played our own interpretations of his songs."

The same will be true for "Legends of the Road" to be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, May 5-7, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Guitarists and singers Pevar, Warner and Bret Levick, singers Inger Jorgensen and Jade Chavis Watt, keyboard player Don Harriss, drummer Matt Kriemelman and bassist Jeff Addicott will celebrate American music written by Helm and members of The Band.

Tickets are $24 and can be purchased at the Craterian box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., online at craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

Looking through videos on YouTube, Pevar and the ensemble chose songs for the show that are as diverse as The Band's live performances. One song, "Free Your Mind," by girl pop group En Vogue, that was performed live by The Band made an excellent choice to feature singers Jorgensen and Watt.

"We're cherry-picking from among the strongest and the lesser-known songs performed by The Band," Pevar says. "The song 'Chest Fever' performed by Three Dog Night was written by Robertson, and 'Long Black Veil' is a classic ballad recorded by Lefty Frizell, Johnny Cash, The Chieftans, Joan Baez, Gillian Welch and others."

Pevar selected Levick to sing "Long Black Veil" at the show.

"He's one of my favorite singers in the Rogue Valley," he says. "It's important to me to have a character vocalist, and Bret is one of those singers who has an emotive quality in his voice. It makes him a standout, like Mick Jagger or Neil Young. He knocks the songs out of the park."

The ensemble for "Legends of the Road" is rounded out by Harriss' work on keys, and a rhythm section by Kriemelman and Addicott.

"We have tipped the hat to the essence of The Band, and we'll interpret that beautiful message through our own filter," Pevar says. "We will perform music inspired by the essence of its origin, but give it our own interpretation. We took on a huge task, and I wish we had more time to prepare. But there also is something about music that is not too rehearsed. That's what The Band's music is. It sounds like honest, unpretentious musicians getting together to play.

"We didn't just phone this music in either," Pevar says. "This is some serious, heartfelt shit."

Pevar has appeared in concert and on recordings with countless artists from around the country and abroad. One project dear to his heart was Crosby, Pevar and Raymond, or CPR. He performed with CPR 12 years ago at the Craterian Theater — his first show in Medford.

"That's why I live here today," he says. "I walked into that show, met Inger, and it was all over. I came back five days later when the tour was over, and I've been here since."

In late March, Pevar was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame. In 2015, he toured the U.S. and U.K. with singer Bette Midler, and joined a reunion tour with Jazz is Dead, behind his album "Grateful Jazz." Pevar will play guitar in the orchestra for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of "The Wiz," opening June 8 in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre, along with bassist Jacob Ackerman of LOVEBITE.

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Bret Levick, Inger Jorgensen and Jeff Pevar will be among the performers in the 'Legends of the Road' concert at the Craterian. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta