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The "last waltz" is the name given to the final concert performed by The Band, performed on Thanksgiving Day 1976at San Francisco's Winterland. Friends of the Band that decided to perform alongside the band for the last time included: Ronnie Hawkins, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Ron Wood, Ringo Starr.

The year is 1976 and The Band is getting ready to call it quits. (For the first time anyway). After what seemed like umpteen years on the road playing in everything from honky-tonk saloons to huge gatherings like Watkins Glen (with the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers) that drew upwards of 600,000 people and being referred to as “Bob Dylan’s back up band, who could blame them? Life on the road and bitter internal squabbles tinged with a dying of the creative process was all it took.

So, on Thanksgiving night they decided to get some old friends together and throw a party for the ages at San Francisco’s infamous Winterland Theater. It was, after all, the place where they first cut their teeth so many years ago. I think I heard somewhere along the line that turkey dinners were supposed to be provided to all those in attendance. I don’t know if that’s true or not but either way, rock history was about to be made.

How’s this for a list of performers?

  • Bob Dylan
  • Neil Young
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Van Morrison
  • Eric Clapton
  • Dr. John
  • Muddy Waters
  • Ringo Starr
  • Paul Butterfield
  • Emmylou Harris
  • Ronnie Hawkins
  • Neil Diamond
  • Ron Wood
  • Bobby Charles
  • The Staple Singers
  • The horn section was led by one Allen Toussaint and Martin Scorsese was there to capture the goings on on film for posterity (and later a movies) sake.

    Now, you can call me an old fart and such but that’s quite a gathering of talent on one stage. Here’s what they played…

    1. Theme From The Last Waltz (with Orchestra)
    2. Up On Cripple Creek - The Band
    3. The Shape I'm In - The Band
    4. It Makes No Difference - The Band
    5. Who Do You Love - Ronnie Hawkins
    6. Life Is A Carnival The Band
    7. Such A Night Dr. John
    8. Down South In New OrleansDr.John
    9. Mystery Train - The Band
    10. Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters
    11. Stagefright - The Band
    12. Further On Up The Road – Eric Clapton
    13. Ophelia – The Band
    14. Helpless – Neil Young
    15. CoyoteJoni Mitchell
    16. Dry Your Eyes – Neil Diamond
    17. Tura Lura Lura - Van Morrison
    18. Caravan – Van Morrison
    19. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - The Band
    20. Baby Let Me Follow You Down – Bob Dylan
    21. I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) – Bob Dylan
    22. Forever Young – Bob Dylan
    23. Baby Let Me Follow You Down (Reprise) – Bob Dylan
    24. I Shall Be Released - (Everybody)
    25. The Well – The Band
    26. Evangeline – The Band with Emmylou Harris
    27. Out Of The Blue – The Band
    28. The Weight - The Band with the Staple Singers
    29. The Last Waltz Refrain - Orchestra
    30. Theme From The Last Waltz – Orchestra

    If you haven’t seen the movie, you should, Scorsese captures the concert in a way that I’ve never seen one captured on film before. The interviews are pretty revealing and he even manages to get a shot at famed promoter Billy Graham lurking off to the side of the stage as the performance goes on.

    A huge ten on the borgometer.


    Thirty years later, I just watched "The Last Waltz" again for the first time. It's the second time I've watched it but it's the first time I've seen it with eyes that see and ears that hear. And the hearing of it through large speakers set at a level unbecoming middle age along with the seeing of it on a BigAss TV made me weep like a virgin after losing herself in the deepest pleasure she could have imagined and finding it pure, and white, and as perfect as any two hours on this planet could be.

    I don't know if you ever listened to The Band before. I realize now that it might be an outdated sound to young ears. Take a listen to Bob Dylan's newest twist of tastes on Love and Theft and the just-released Modern Times and think about where the music you enjoy comes from. Dylan is thinking about that a lot these days, evidenced not only by these tunes he's writing but also by his radio show where he's playing the songs for you that made him think about music the way he does. I can't pretend to know what's in his mind, but I do know this: The same sound and attitude he's trying to capture is exactly the same sound and attitude that The Band was in casual full possession of during their heyday. And if that sound could have been put on film more brilliantly than Martin Scorsese did in 1976, I am only sorry that someone else didn't choose to also do it. I could have watched several films on this subject, back to back.

    I understand that Joni Mitchell might have performed other songs aside from "Coyote" during the filming of that "end of the road" memento to the fellows who started out as "The Hawks." I hear rumors that Van Morrison performed more than one tune in those sessions at San Francisco's Winterland aside "Caravan." I am not sure if seeing and hearing that extra material would have changed this fact, and if it would have, I would rather not ever be exposed to it. During those two songs, as well as some of the band's original material, I cried like a baby. Tears are like laughter; you can't get them back and you can't recreate what caused them in the first place.

    Yes, I read these stories of a soundtrack outtake that includes other songs. Then I dig deeper and find that there was an undercurrent of animosity between some of the other band members and Robbie Robertson who supposedly made the decision on his own to disband the band. This is stuff I did not want to know. All I wanted to know was how do human beings produce songs that can take you out of your chair and put you above the confusion of this world into a place where the American South was not the most awful place to grow up in or live today. Where Joni Mitchell can tell you a story of philandering love while Rick Danko has more fun playing bass guitar than a musician has a right. Where Van Morrison can overcome his stage fright to get so worked up that he's doing Jerry Lee Lewis kicks as he exits stage left at just the right moment. Where the same Rick Danko can sing a song called "Stage Fright" that can tell you everything you ever need to know about performance art; a song written about Van Morrison himself.

    Some say that Robertson's mic wasn't even turned on. Who cares. The harmony with Danko and Helm and the soon-to-off-himself Richard Manuel is so genuine, so angelic, that a guitar player with bulging veins singing at the top of his lungs with no release available to the audience is likely prophetic more than pathetic.

    Some folks complain about Canadians. Some Canadians complain about that fact that we Americans don't even have a disparaging term for Canadians. In fact, we do. It is "Canadian." But the fact that four-fifths of this band came from Canada and the other one-fifth is a redneck who grew up just a few miles from me in Arkansas makes me happy for reasons that defy geography. As Dylan would tell you, it's all about the genealogy of the music. After all, even though Richard Clare Danko was born in 1942 in Greens Corner, Ontario, Canada, this was a part of Ontario populated by a large number of families descended from expatriate southerners from the United States. My people.

    This is just a short aside to tell you that you should watch this film. And turn your speakers up very, very loud when you do. You will not be disappointed. Go ahead. Turn up your electric radio. Turn it up. So you know. It's got soul.

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