Local musicians celebrate ‘The Last Waltz’
What: “Utah’s Finest Remake ‘The Last Waltz’”
When: 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30
Where: The Depot, 13 N. 400 West, Salt Lake City
On Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, 1976, Canadian-American rock group The Band — Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel — performed its final concert with a slew of musical guests at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.
Martin Scorcese filmed, edited and released the concert as “The Last Waltz” documentary theatrically in 1978 to critical raves.
This Saturday, Nov. 30, local band Badfeather — Rick Gerber, Jeremy Whitesides, Dave Mealy, Adam Fifield and Matt Wilson — will play the part of The Band in “Utah’s Finest Remake ‘The Last Waltz’” at The Depot in Salt Lake City.
The performance, which is based on the original film’s setlist, will include Park City-based musicians Junior Richard, Robyn Cage and Rich Wyman, along with a group of other local artists, such as Talia Keys and Michelle Moonshine, who are well-known in the Wasatch Back.
Gerber, who is a staple in the Park City music scene, has wanted to recreate “The Last Waltz” for years.
“I’ve done a lot of tributes, and have paid homage to my favorite groups — Led Zeppelin, The Beatles. Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd,” he said. “And I’ve been rapping with a lot of musicians throughout the years about doing ‘The Last Waltz.’”
Gerber tossed the idea around with Badfeather’s manager, Junior Richard, who is also the general manager of The Cabin in Park City.
“I told him if anyone can get the ball rolling it would be him,” Gerber said.
Gerber and Richard, who also books bands for The Depot, pitched the idea to The Depot’s main office and was “immediately” given the green light, Gerber said.
“So, Junior put me in charge of producing the show, and I wrangled all the musicians,” he said. “I have worked with all of these musicians in different capacities, and they are all very good at what they do.”
The 1976 concert’s lineup included Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Dr. John, Ronnie Hawkins, Eric Clapton and the Staples, Gerber said.
“But you also forget Ringo Starr was in there, and a couple of other big-names like Bob Margolin, Stephen Stills and Pinetop Perkins were part of the concert, but not readily featured in the film,” he said.
Gerber selected which local musicians would perform what songs for the Saturday-night concert.
“Neil Middleton from Royal Bliss is slated to perform Neil Diamond, and Preston Creed from Jagertown will perform the Van Morrison songs,” he said. “I would have loved to do a Van Morrison song, but Badfeather needs to play The Band.”
The Salt Lake tribute will also feature some additional guests, according to Gerber.
“Badfeather’s drummer Matt Wilson is connected with the local colleges’ music departments, so we’ll have a horn section,” he said.
Ken Sanders, owner of Ken Sanders’ Books, will take on the part of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who, along with poet Michael McClure, read some poetry during the original performance.
“Ken’s a funny guy,” Gerber said. “He didn’t want to be Michael McClure, because he said he was a jerk,” Gerber said with a laugh. “So I recruited Duncan Phillips, son of folk singer Utah Phillips, to be Michael McClure.”
Gerber and Richard began working on the concert three months ago.
“While I helmed this, Junior was always micromanaging me,” Gerber said, laughing. “I think that’s why we work well together. He sees the things I missed.”
Gerber is also keen on the responsibility to make sure Badfeather plays the music right.
“The Band is one of the best groups in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, and they have this loose swing; this feeling that is hard to capture,” he said. “So getting the music ready has been a little daunting and overwhelming.”
An added responsibility to present the tribute is to introduce younger music fans to the music.
“There are some kids who have no idea what ‘The Last Waltz’ is or who Van Morison is, and they make me want to pull my hair out,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to embrace historic literatures like the film ‘The Last Waltz,’ because they are important historical moments that need to be preserved.”
Gerber was 19 when he first saw the theatrical version of “The Last Waltz.”
“My friend told me about it,” he said. “At that time, I was already loving Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, but I really didn’t know who The Band was.”
The film “blew” Gerber’s mind.
“It had such an impact on me that I watch it every Thanksgiving,” he said. “So when my family comes over for dinner, I’ll make them watch it.”
Gerber’s favorite moments in the film center around Morrison’s performances.
“I’ve been obsessed with him since I was a young boy,” he said. “I also love the interview with Rick Danko, when he knows it’s over. He’s got tears in his eyes. I know how that feels. I’ve broken up with so many bands, it’s like breaking up a relationship. There’s so much loss.”
These past three months have been hectic for Gerber, but they’ve also been enlightening, he said.
“It will be an honor to show people who The Band was,” he said. “I mean, everyone knows who Bob Dylan is. Everyone knows who Van Morrison is. And everyone knows who Neil Young is. So, I’m happy to bring this to Salt Lake and be part of the local music scene. I think it’s going to be a great production, and the audience is going to be surprised.”
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O.P. Rockwell’s summer concert season has begun.