Nearly 40 years after The Band bid farewell with a historic, guest-laden performance at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom, the magic of that night continues to echo through our collective musical memory. It’s a magic that an allstar cast of musicians will attempt to recapture this weekend when they honor the iconic concert–famously known as The Last Waltz–with a pair of tribute shows at New Orleans’ Saenger Theatre.
Slated for Friday the 29th and Saturday the 30th, the Jazz Fest after shows will be led by venerable Gov’t Mule/Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist/super-producer Don Was, who have worked together on past tributes to Dr. John and Lynyrd Skynyrd (Haynes was a guest musician for those Was-led events). Joining them will be George Porter Jr. (bass), Dave Malone (guitar), Jamey Johnson (guitar), John Medeski (keys), Terence Higgins (drums), Mark Mullins (horns) and a bevy of unannounced special guests.
“I think it’ll be very comfortable and organic and fun,” notes Haynes. “Coincidentally my band Gov’t Mule did a thematic show this past New Year’s Eve, as we do every New Year’s Eve. The theme was Watkins Glenn [1973’s Summer Jam festival] so we did one set of Grateful Dead music, one set of The Band’s music and one set of Allman Brothers music. So I just kind of honed in on a lot of those songs, even though a lot of the ones from the Last Waltz are different. I’m pretty up on that music in general.”
While The Last Waltz was immortalized by a live album and Martin Scorsese-directed film of the same name, this weekend’s shows are more interested in the concert itself than the media that came out of it.
“I don’t think we’re going to necessarily adhere to the running order,” explains Haynes. “And we’re choosing the songs from the actual concert as opposed to just limiting ourselves to the movie or the record. The concert was even longer, so we’re taking the liberty of choosing anything from it.”
That’s a fun prospect when one considers the amount of incredible footage from the show that Scorsese left on the floor, including a rendition of “Down South in New Orleans” that featured Louisiana’s own Bobby Charles and Dr. John (though Dr. John’s “Such a Night” did make it into the film). But the New Orleans connection runs deeper than that: this weekend’s shows will also be a tribute of sorts for local legend Allen Toussaint, who helped arrange the horns for the 1976 concert.
“We’ll be utilizing Allen’s horn charts that he originally did for the Last Waltz,” Haynes says. “That’s something we’re all very excited about as well.”
It seems Jazz Festers are pretty excited about the whole thing too, as the Friday night concert was only added after the Saturday night date sold out almost instantly. And what’s not to love? Despite being predominantly comprised of Canadians (only drummer Levon Helm was born in the United States), The Band’s catalog has earned a special place in the pantheon of 60s and 70s Americana.
“I really love their music” adds Haynes. “It’s something that I listen to, and that I played a lot with Levon before he passed. I felt proud to be a member of that extended family.”
“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love The Band,” he continues “I think they’re one of those few bands where it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like their music.”
The Last Waltz New Orleans will take place at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans on Friday, April 29 and Saturday, April 30. The Saturday show is sold out, but tickets for the Friday show are available here.