Thanksgiving—Turkey, Football, and…The Last Waltz

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, time to pay homage to The Band, Martin Scorsese, and the numerous guest musicians who joined The Band for their final show on Thanksgiving Night in 1976.

The Last Waltz documents The Band's last concert with its full line-up. It took place at San Francisco's Winterland Theater and was produced/promoted by Bill Graham. On this occasion, Graham was a generous host, providing a full Thanksgiving dinner prior to the show, not only to the performers, but to the entire 5400 person audience at Winterland. The meal (which consisted of 220 turkeys, and 500 extra turkey legs as well as all the fixins) was accompanied by the 45 piece Berkeley Promenade Orchestra playing dinner music. As the dinner wound up, professional dancers went into the audience to encourage ballroom dancing, so the organizers would be able to quietly make all the tables disappear in order to open up the floor for the concert.

In addition to The Band's wonderful playing, there is an incredible line-up of guest stars who share the stage, including Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, Bobby Charles and Neil Young.  The documentary also includes interview footage with members of The Band, interspersed throughout the live footage.  Standout performances include Dr. John's version of "Such a Night," Neil Diamond's "Dry Your Eyes," (on the CD, Diamond introduces his performance by stating "I'm only gonna do one song, but I'm gonna do it... real good"), and my personal favorite, Van Morrison's "Caravan," with a rousing horn section, and a jumpsuited Van the Man, calling "to the one more time" as he kicks the air repeatedly in emphasis to the horn line. (Incidentally, it was the legendary and late Allen Toussaint who did much of the horn arranging for the concert).

Robbie Robertson seems to act as onstage musical director throughout the evening (a role you can find him in if you also watch the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame Concerts, opens a new window). The concert seems to turn more and more into a party as the evening progresses, and all the guests end up onstage for the Bob Dylan closing number "I Shall Be Released." Good times.

The Last Waltz

Bill Graham Presents This book was the source for much of my information) is a wonderful chronicle of The Last Waltz, and Bill Grahams entire life.

This Thanksgiving, eat some turkey, watch some football, and don't forget to watch The Last Waltz, and as the opening scene suggests, "This film should be played loud!"

Cheers, Brian