Community pulls together to create ‘The Last Waltz’
From staff reports
The title card at the beginning “The Last Waltz” read “This film should be played loud!” And that’s fitting, because when renowned director Martin Scorsese does something, people tend to pay attention.
Such was the case with The Last Waltz, a 1978 Scorsese documentary about The Band’s final live performance, which was largely noteworthy because it had a list of ridiculously well-known, talented guest artists that included Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters and Neil Diamond, just to name a few.
Scorsese made a film about the 1976 Thanksgiving Day farewell concert, and it remains a November tradition for families who turn it on in their living rooms and clubs that sell tickets to their own adaptations of the famous 45-year-old production.
Rachel Lingvai and Will Rhodes, the music-minded muscle and brainpower behind Rach and Rhodes Presents, a local production company that kicked off this spring with the Courthouse Nights series, is paying their own homage to the famous concert at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Gaslight-Baker Theatre.
If you come, you’re going to recognize your neighbors — the people who make your pizza, serve your coffee, and monogram your t-shirts — up on stage said Rhodes, the musician-turned-producer-turned-pickle-maker who said he put the show on for years in downtown Austin clubs.
“What makes it fun is, instead of musicians we could get from Austin, we decided to get people in our town to get people to act like Neil Young, Van Morrison and the other famous artists who performed in that concert,” Rhodes said. “It’s going to be a play, not only a rock concert.”
Added Lingvai, “We’ve never put it on in a theater.”
Rhodes said Lockhart was packed with talented musicians and those in attendance at the Gaslight Baker on Sunday will be in for a treat.
“We’re just realizing how much musical talent we have in this town right now,” Rhodes said. “Austin is not over COVID, and if you talk to anyone who is working at clubs, bands were breaking up during COVID because there was no work. They were breaking up and moving back home. And we’re getting quite a few musicians from Austin who have moved here and interesting things could come of that.
“We have a plethora here.”
Recreating that performance
There are various accounts of what led The Band to decide it would put on a farewell concert over Thanksgiving 1976. But according to some, the idea came about after vocalist and songwriter Richard Manuel was seriously injured in a boating accident. Guitarist Robbie Robertson gave thought to leaving the road, and although the other band members didn’t agree with his decision, they set a date and began preparations.
What happened from there was miraculous. The guest list grew to include other performers, starting with Bob Dylan and eventually growing to include Clapton, Diamond, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris and other marquee acts.
Eventually, the farewell concert grew to be a celebration, and Scorsese agreed to direct a documentary about the final live performance of Manuel, Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson.
In a way, this concert is kind of like that if you’re a fan of the downtown business owners who keep Lockhart an interesting place.
Chazz Emile Bessette of Sunflower Music and Friends is playing Robbie Robertson. Lingvai herself will play Joni Mitchell and Rhodes is Neil Young. JJ Grigar of Logos is Eric Clapton. Chris Hoyt, co-owner of Loop and Lil’s, is Neil Diamond. And Taylor Burge, who co-owns Good Things in Martindale and Chapparal in Lockhart, will lend her voice to help comprise a tribute to Levon Helm & The Staple Sisters.
While the performance was a once in a lifetime thing, it’s become an annual tradition at many nightclubs.
Lingvai said she’s hoping to make it a Lockhart tradition as well.
“We want it to be a yearly thing,” she said.
To purchase tickets, visit rachandrhodespresents.com.