STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
Staying true to the legacy of Americana music icons The Band, The Weight Band, featuring Jim Weider (guitar, mandolin and vocals), Randy Ciarlante (drums and vocals), Brian Mitchell (vocals, keyboards, accordion, harmonica), Marty Grebb, (vocals, B3, piano, saxophone) and Albert Rogers (vocals, bass) offers stunning renditions of The Band’s classics “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” “Ophelia,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Rag Mama Rag,” among many others.
Jim Weider, who replaced original The Band guitarist Robbie Robertson in 1985, recalls the formation of The Weight Band.
“We did a couple of shows — Randy and I, the drummer from the band, with Jimmy Levino and Garth Hudson,” recalls Weider, from his home in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. “People really loved it. So I asked Randy, ‘Why don’t we do this?’ It was nice to play the songs again after all these years. We did a couple of Band songs, maybe four or five tops, and people really enjoyed it. So, I put the band together. All of us had a tight connection to The Band having played with them or in varied formations with Levon Helm, Garth Hudson or Rick Danko. We knew how to play Band music. So we started doing shows 3½ years ago and it’s really taken off on it’s own.”
Weider’s tenure with The Band spanned fifteen years, ending in 2000. As lead guitarist, he contributed his writing talents and played on the albums “Jericho,” “High on the Hog” and “Jubilation.” Life beyond The Band found him touring with former band members Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko.
“It was a dream come true for me,” recalls Weider. “I was such a big fan of theirs for years. It’s pretty amazing that this music was made in 1968 and 1969 and it still holds up today. It’s a piece of American history.”
Robbie Robertson is the one guy that I’ve never communicated with in all these years,” adds Weider. “I’d love to meet him. I’m sure we’ll cross paths. I’d love to invite him up and have him play with us. I’m sure he’s happy that we have the group and keep making music because we’re making his albums sell (laughs).”
While preserving the legacy remains the mission of Weider and his band mates, work on an original album has begun, with a tentative 2017 release date.
“We’re working on an original record,” says Weider. “We’ve cut 4 tracks, probably another 8 to go. We get the right songs that we feel comfortable about and run with that. There’s no pressure at all. I’ve been doing it for so long that it has just come naturally. We’re taking our time. As we get more tunes, we’ll go in and cut some more. We’re in no rush. I think getting original music out and carrying on this music is going to be fantastic. These are great songs that we feel strong about. We’ll get it done.”
Currently on tour through the spring, The Weight Band is excited to be performing concert dates up and down the East Coast.
“I call what we do ‘carrying on the music of the Band,’” says Weider. “Keeping the music alive. It is such an important part of American music — roots of Americana music if you want to label it. They were the first. They influenced so many groups and that music is still fresh today.”
“We try to play it as authentically as The Band would be playing it,” adds Weider. “There’s stuff that we stretch out a little bit, like “Ophelia.” Of course nobody is going to sing like those people. We sing it the way we feel the songs with our voices, but the way the music is played is very similar because we played with the Band for so long it just comes naturally. It feels good to play the music. We’re having fun doing it, and people are enjoying it.”
Audiences can expect to hear many classic tunes and The Weight Band will also go deeper into the Band catalog to play songs like “Ophelia,” “Life is a Carnival,” “Atlantic City” and so many others.
“The Shows have been going very well for us,” says Weider. “People are very excited about hearing the songs again and all the guys know how to play the music properly. I think everybody can identify with the lyrics. The songs were so strong and the lyrics are about America, about the common man that people can relate to. They have a simple meaning to them. Like you and me, we grew up with them and we remember certain times in your youth. And younger people are digging it too, so we have a mixed audience. It’s been nice to see music being handed down from the parents. I think people relate to it. It reminds them of a certain time in their life.”
“We’re really the only authentic band because everyone else doing it was never in the group,” adds Weider. “So this is the only group that can do this music. We’ll do the classics, but then they’ll hear stuff that they heard the Band do when they first came out. Those great gems that were on all these different records that they really didn’t perform live. With me, they never did those tunes in 15 years. So we went back in time and learned them all. With the five vocalists, we can really cover everything properly and legitimately. It’s nice to see people are really enjoying it.”