"Last Waltz" coming to Dorset Theatre Festival
On Friday Sept. 20, the Dorset Playhouse will be the setting for a re-creation of a memorable concert given by The Band, arguably one of the greatest and most influential rock bands of the late 1960s and early to mid-1970s.
After breaking out into popular awareness with their debut album, "Music from Big Pink" in 1968, The Band -- so named because they served as the back up band for Bob Dylan and Ronnie Hawkins, a rockabilly artist popular in the 1950s and early 1960s -- went on to have several other successful albums before calling it quits in 1976 amid the usual brew of road weariness and personality conflicts. But before they did, they went out in style -- performing and recording a Thanksgiving Day concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco which was filmed and made into a movie by the well-known Hollywood director Martin Scorsese.
"The Last Waltz," as the concert and the movie were called, was far more than The Band gamely getting it up for last blow out. An eclectic panoply of special guests which included not only Dylan and Hawkins but also Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond and many more took to the stage to perform with The Band to produce one of the classic moments in the history of rock music. The film wasn't too shabby either, garnering enormous praise when it was released in 1978 and still, 35 years later, widely considered one of the best rock concert documentaries ever made.
In April 2012, Levon Helm, one of the original members of The Band and their drummer and frequent lead singer passed away. That gave Tor Krautter, the leader of the Berkshire County-based jam band "Rev Tor" an idea.
The band, whose music has been heavily influenced by the Grateful Dead, Phish, and The Allman Brothers Band already included some of The Band's material in their repertoire, and Krautter was a big fan of their work, he said.
"They covered a lot of ground," he said. "They could play blues, country, bluegrass, jazz -- they really were the ultimate American band." To honor Levon Helm's memory and his contribution to modern music, Krautter helped organize a tribute concert a month later that wound up re-creating the "Last Waltz" at a theater in Pittsfield, Mass, with his band playing The Band and a group of local musicians taking the parts of the original special guests. The concert was produced in conjunction with Music in Common, a Berkshires-based nonprofit organization whose goal and mission is to use music as a means of community building, both domestically and internationally.
"It worked so well we realized we wanted it to continue," Krautter said last week in a phone interview. "It was so much fun. We could take it on the road (and) use local musicians from that area."
Eight concerts later, that road show will be touching down in Dorset Friday night with the Rev Tor band headlining. Local musicians who will be taking part in the show include Rick Redington, the Kind Buds, Cara White, Eoin Noonan and Jeremy Woods of Split Tongue Crow, Phil Henry, Bernice Lewis, Bob Stannard, Gina Coleman of Misty Blues, Greg Bird, Carol Ann Jones, Andrew Stearns and Will Mosheim of Gold Town, Laura Molinelli and Rob Beaulieu.
The local musicians, who are of course different at every stop, aren't asked to perform 'impersonations." They'll perform the songs Van Morrison, Neil Young and the others did in their own voices, in their own way, and in the sequence when they were performed during the original Last Waltz in 1976, Krautter said.
The concert is a benefit and a fund-raiser for Music in Common, which was founded eight years ago by Todd Mack, its executive director, who, as it turns out, will also be one of the "guest artists."
According to its website, Music in Common produces concerts, school programs and multimedia productions in communities that need that support or where there has been a history of conflict. Hopefully, the exchange of ideas and collaboration leads to something positive.
The organization has its roots in the tragic death of one of the area's foremost journalists. Daniel Pearl, who was a reporter for the North Adams Transcript and the Berkshire Eagle before eventually moving on to head the South Asia bureau of the Wall Street Journal, was killed by Al Qaeda fighters in 2002 following the U.S. assault on Afghanistan after 9/11. Pearl was covering the war for the Wall Street Journal, when he was captured, tortured and executed; his gruesome death by decapitation was depicted on a video shot by Al Qaeda and it became widely circulated on the Internet. Mack had been a friend and band-mate with Pearl and started Music in Common as a both a tribute to him and in the belief music could bridge other cultural gaps in understanding. So far, Music in Common has toured to more than 100 communities across the U.S., the Middle East, and the Far East, according to its website.
The "Last Waltz" shows combine several elements, but the music is ultimately a means to another end while being an enjoyable night for both the performers and the audience, he said.
"It's really not so much about the music -- that's the vehicle for the more important 21st century learning that takes place; the focus is on the kids learning how to communicate with one another and the compromises that go with that," Mack said. "They (the concerts) are a lot of fun and what's so cool about it is that every show is different and unique because it's local musicians playing in every town we go to."
The "Last Waltz" will start at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 20 at the Dorset Theater Festival on Cheney Road in Dorset. For more information or to order tickets, call the theatre festival box office at 802-867-2223.
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