Thanksgiving Day, San Francisco.
More than a dozen special guests joined The Band on stage for their farewell concert show: The Last Waltz. Guests included Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and many more seminal legends of the 70’s rock scene.
To top it off, the prominent New York film director Martin Scorsese was hired to capture the concert on 35mm film before turning it into the documentary of the same name, The Last Waltz.
The film starts with a black slate and white text reading: “PLAY THIS FILM LOUD”. The movie’s aged well. It captures the climax of an America wholly enamored by the raw talent and passion produced when their rock and roll stars align on stage, in their natural habitat.
November 19th, Dayton Ohio.
More than forty years later, on a chilly Fall afternoon just a few days before Thanksgiving, Dayton’s own Yellow Cab bar stirs with thirty local Daytonians. Some of them have known each other for years, some are just meeting now. All are incredibly gifted, impassioned musicians; with one common cause.
In a few days, these local musicians will take the stage at the Dayton Art Institute to perform their very own Dayton rendition of The Last Waltz. Today was the last of their four Sunday rehearsals before the gig hits the stage; Jeff Opt invited me to the rehearsal to ask around.
Jeff Opt is the conductor behind Dayton’s own Waltz; he’s the one that brought the idea to life over six years ago. While Jeff’s a musician in his own right, he prefers to manage the business behind the stage instead; letting the musicians and their talent take them wherever it leads.
“They’re here cause they love the music, they wanted to be a part of it. I don’t direct them, I let them — they build it themselves. I got the speakers, I got the PA, but I just invited like ten people I knew, they dropped in, they invited friends they knew, you know it’s still very organic.”
You can tell. Dayton’s Last Waltz may find its roots from the artists who originally partook in The Band’s ‘78 concert, but its spirit of community — what really makes the show special — is manifested by Dayton’s unique and diverse community of talented artists.
The artists span all sorts of demographics, coming from a wide assortment of local Dayton bands; something Jeff hopes more people take away from the concert: “the thing I wish people would take more away from, is they should go see these people in their bands. Everyone up here plays their own music… these are all amazing musicians that any night of the week you can probably see at least one of them play for five bucks.”
I asked Jeff how closely they follow the setlist and performance of the original ‘76 show. While he paid respect to the film calling it “arguably the best concert film ever”, he’s not looking for a note for note copy — rather an attempt to capture the spirit of what made the original Waltz so special. “Everyone involved with it is into classic music, I mean this is the classical music of our era.”
I labeled it an homage, Jeff agreed but offered a much more fitting word: “We like to call it a celebration… again you were asking what theme runs through this, it’s community.”
So come celebrate. Celebrate the artists that brought the show to life forty years past, celebrate the artists keeping it alive today. Celebrate music, celebrate Dayton music; celebrate the 70’s, celebrate the now.
Watch Such a Night: The Last Waltz Live in the Renaissance Auditorium at the Dayton Art Institute Wednesday November 22nd, as well as Friday night on the 24th. All proceeds from the show go towards both WYSO radio and the Dayton Art Institute, and at this time both shows are SOLD OUT.