The Band's final concert memorialized in 'The Next Waltz'
In the wake of producing such classics as "The Weight," "It Makes No Difference," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Cripple Creek," the band known as The Band held its final concert on Nov. 25, 1976 at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.
And, what an epic concert it was. Some 30 songs played and scores of artists joined Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson and The Band for sets on stage, including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood and Neil Young. Two years later, Martin Scorsese made a documentary about the concert, "The Last Waltz," which became known as one of the best concert films ever.
As a youngster, Jeff Rosenberg sat and watched "The Last Waltz" on television with his father. He thinks it was on PBS or something like that. Anyway, it made an indelible mark on him, especially the parts with Dylan.
Fast forward to 2011 and Rosenberg, a singer/songwriter who had moved to Portland in 1997, had seen tribute concerts being held around Portland and finally had the "gumption" to suggest an event focused on The Band's final concert and, in particular, paying homage to "The Last Waltz." Rosenberg, then a Willamette Week music writer, discussed the idea with Adam East, the talent buyer for new Alberta Rose Theatre.
It was the 35th anniversary of the final concert, and the two decided, why not put on a tribute at Alberta Rose? From the start, it benefitted the Jeremy Wilson Foundation, which supports musicians and industry workers and their families during medical crises.
Rosenberg arranged for three backing bands, some of Portland's best vocalists, and the gig was on.
"People were receptive," said Rosenberg, then a Portlander and now a resident of land in the Oregon Coast Range. "In the years since, it's become sort of a common thing. There are now a lot of cities that do an annual (Band) tribute show. I'm glad we have the pedigree we do."
Called "The Next Waltz," the concert will be held for the 10th time Friday-Sunday, Nov. 25-27, at Alberta Rose Theatre. The COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions forced cancellation of the event the past two years.
The thing is Rosenberg wasn't necessarily a big The Band fan growing up. "I came through it through Dylan," he said.
"I definitely started out as a little Beatle fan," he said. "As I read up on them, I learned what esteem they held for this guy Bob Dylan. Then eventually I delved into exploring him and became a huge fan, if not an obsessive one.
"Then his history with The Band, going back to when he first started playing and 'going electric' on that 1965-66 tour where fans booed and jeered him … I knew about that history and then reuniting with The Band (on tour and then for the 1976 concert).
"I was all of 10 years old when the film came out. Ever since I discovered the movie as a young Bob Dylan fan, it was a big part of my life."
The group Berthaline and Lewi Longmire's band have been stalwarts as backing bands in the 10 years of "The Next Waltz," as has musician Steve Kerin. Longmire calls his backing band The Crackers, which was one of The Band's original names.
"Steve Kerin has played on almost every song of every set, almost every year," Rosenberg said. "Including all singers, there are 60-plus musicians on stage in any given year. I've always said, if all 60 musicians could be whittled down to Steve's right hand, we'd still be able to get through a show."
Kris Deelane has also been a key contributor, leading the Berthaline group. She was East's longtime musical partner in a musical duo. This year, Berthaline will be doing all the backing band stuff, while Longmire contributes as a performer.
Singers include Ruby Friedman, Victoria Williams, the duo Wonderly (Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk), Norman Sylvester, Arietta Ward, Sean Badders (from Quick and Easy Boys), LaRhonda Steele and her gospel quartet, Steve Einhorn and Kate Power, and Sarah Clarke. Portland's Ural Thomas has been involved in the past. Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists played organ for many shows. Eric Earley from Blitzen Trapper has sung some Dylan, as has Longmire.
Most of the playlist from The Band's final concert is usually played. "We took the biggest songs and moved them to the end of the night," said Rosenberg, who serves as the event's creative director.
Of the concert, he added:
"It was just such an event, because The Band really recruited people from so many different phases of their career, genres of roots music, folk, gospel, blues, country. If you wanted to give somebody a primer for the Americana genre, you couldn't do any better than sitting them down in front of that movie, it hit so many bases. And it had the end-of-an-era poignancy to it. The way they staged it, showed up so well on film. They borrowed chandeliers from San Francisco Opera from 'La Traviata,' gussied up the stage really fancy. We try to have some homage to how good they made it look, other touches that paid tribute to the film, like ballroom dancers to opening of 'The Last Waltz' theme.
"We did one show the first year," Rosenberg said. "That show was halfway over, and people were asking, 'What are you doing next year?' I thought it would be a one-year thing. All the sudden, it was a tradition.
"It's been gratifying watching it become a beloved part of the Portland music calendar and feature of Thanksgiving weekend."
Some tickets for "The Next Waltz" are still available, but be warned, the event usually sells out. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Nov. 25-26, and 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27.
Saturday's show will be livestreamed for free, or a requested donation, on the Alberta Rose Theatre website.
For more: albertarosetheatre.com
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