Donna Sandstrom

Donna Sandstrom
Seattle, Washington, USA
September 10
Born in Brooklyn, raised in L.A. Studied at U.C. Santa Cruz, waitressed in San Francisco, found my way to Seattle in the early 80s. Career in high tech (Aldus/Adobe) until 2007 when I left to do The Whale Trail. Writing on Open Salon since May 2008. Go Obama!


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APRIL 19, 2012 9:19PM

Levon Helm and Lessons Learned

Rate: 8 Flag

The only Levon Helm story I have is the ticket I didn't buy to see the Last Waltz - the concert, not the movie.

I was 20 years old, working part-time at an ice-cream shop in Santa Cruz while I went to school. It was a great gig - paid a little above minimum wage, had flexible hours I could fit in around classes, and came with a discount that made me the most popular person at every pot luck I went to. 

Polar Bear made its own ice cream - the only place in the County that did, back then. There were plenty of flavors, from rocky road to bubble gum, but by far the most popular were the flavors made with honey. Pot-addled students, surfers and musicians couldn't get enough of the carob mint and fresh banana. People drove from over the hill for the honey almond and cafe au lait.

Hot summer nights, the line would be out the door for hours. We developed great arms from carving out the giant scoops, hand-packing pint after pint.

When things were quiet, we made Bear Paws - ice cream sandwiches made with oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies, and a scoop of vanilla or Turkish coffee ice cream, all dipped in chocolate. Truly a treat ahead of its time.

One night Tom, a regular, told me about tickets for a concert he'd heard were going on sale - The Band's last concert, at Winterland. There were going to be special guests - and they were going to serve Thanksgiving dinner, too. Tickets were $25. Did I want to go?

I had to decide quickly. $25 was a lot of money, on an ice-cream scooper's hourly. I liked the Band but decided it was too expensive. No, I told him. Too much. 

::insert sobbing sounds::

When he came in to the shop the day after the  show, still glowing, and told me who had been there, I felt a little sick, and not from the Bear Paws. Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Van Morrison...Ringo! Dear god, it was a gathering for the ages. And I missed it.

♦ ♦♦

I am not sure what the moral of this story is except - go see live music whenever you can. You never know when it might be your only chance to hear a true, original American voice - something that will change your life forever.

A few years later, in 1978, friends asked if I wanted their extra ticket to see Bruce Springsteen at Winterland. I hadn't really listened to him, and didn't own a single album. It would be the first time any of us would see him live. This time, I said yes.

I don't remember how much that ticket cost, but I do remember Bruce tearing up the stage, jump-starting my heart. Lesson learned.

R.I.P. Levon!


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Donna, I can appreciate your feeling of missing out on that very special show! Thanks for this wonderful look back in time at a special moment in Santa Cruz and The Band! (The line up, in addition to The Band, was amazing to read about.)
RIP Levon. i don't know what I would have done with out live music in my teens/20's. & being in NYC I got to see everybody. Good to see you, Donna!
Thanks, John - it is one of the few things in life that I whole-heartedly, categorically regret. Am so glad it was filmed!

Nice to see you too, Marlene! You must have some good stories about those shows...would love to hear 'em! Thanks for stopping by -
In 1968 I missed seeing a sold out Jefferson Airplane concert in Houston in 1968 and after work I cruised into a club called Love Street to assuage my disappointment. Stoned on acid I tried to enjoy the music but couldn't quite shake my sense of regret when around 1:00am in walked Grace Slick and the entire crew. The Airplane played a full set while Grace sat and listened. I approached her and asked her if she'd sing just one song, but she refused and took the time to explain why. We sat and talked for over a half hour and I met everyone in the band... strange how music worked back then.

I miss Levon as well.
Yay!!! People care about Levon for more than one day!
Jmac...what a story! Seeing Jefferson Airplane while tripping in a club called Love Street...a quintessential 60s moment. Bet that was some set...
Roger - yes! And it was your story that brought this memory right back, so thanks for the inspiration...
Painful memory, Donna. Hurts me, too, and I saw them in St. Louis during the final tour with Dylan, and later at a small venue in Norfolk called The Boat House, which is gone now, too. But your story hurts. Good lesson for us all: strike while the ticket is hot.
Donna: Maybe there's a bit of comfort here: $25 WAS a lot of dough back then. Especially, as you say, on an ice cream scooper's salary.

Here's my regret: I live 45 minutes from where Levon lived and worked, where he staged his Rambles. They were pricey - $100 to $200. It slowed my enthusiasm, especially on a newspaperman's salary. One of these days, I promised myself, I'd get around to it.

My wife and I were making plans for an upcoming Ramble featuring another local hero, Grahma Parker, and his former producer, pop genius Nick Lowe. Then we got the news. It still stings. Though what really hurts isn't the missed opportunity but the man we're all missing now & forever. Because there aren't too many real men left to us.
Chicken those were great shows! And yes, if you can swing the ticket at all, must go. A law I have come to live by...

Jeremiah - yes, I seem to remember shows being around $5; $7.50 tops. So $25 was like today's $250. Graham Parker and Nick Lowe! Hope they still do a show, a fitting tribute...
Good to see you back here, Donna. I guess yours is a different take on remembrance, but as you said, lesson learned. We regret what we didn't do far more than what we've done.
So true, Lea! If I'd gone, I wonder if it would have left as much a mark on me as not going ;) Good to see you here too, and other friendly faces in the old stomping grounds. Enough to lure me back in...