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  • Andrey Psyche

Seattle’s fifth tribute to The Last Waltz

The performers of The Last Waltz on stage. // Photo by Andreas Kasprzok

Originally, The Last Waltz took place on November 25th, 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco and served as a farewell concert for the Canadian-American rock group The Band. Some of the greatest names in music joined them that night to wish them a warm goodbye, such as Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, and Muddy Waters. On November 23rd, 2018 — 42 years later and 813.2 miles away — a new “The Band” put on a tribute show at the Neptune Theater in honor of the legendary night that took place almost half a century ago.

For the past five years, this annual concert has been uniting local Seattle artists on one stage and reliving some of the greatest moments in music history. This year was no different. The Band, comprised of Leif Dalan on piano/organ/vocals , Joe Michiels on guitar, Bill Nordwall on the piano/organ, Michael Rognlie on bass guitar/vocals, and Jasen Samford on drums/vocals, pulled up 27 guest artists  from the wide open music scene found within the shores of Seattle — not to mention the two backing vocalists and the horn section. This room was bursting with talent in every direction you looked. It was an overwhelming experience of music coming together in so many ways that the only response was to dance, and dance we did.

From the start, fans were flooding in from the streets, wearing Grateful Dead jackets, cowboy hats, and smiles. For some, it was a night to relive the memories of the days that we now hold so dear, for others, to make new memories to keep us warm for years to come.

Concertgoers were surrounded with the grand oceanic theme that the Neptune has to offer. Stained glass portraits of Neptune himself, topless mermaids, and heroic scenes framed the stage from either side. Tall relief columns stretched to the ceiling. At its terminal, a glorious bust of Neptune and his long beard looked down upon the crowd. A gentle fog was filling the room, saturating the air in a sea of red and purple hues. As the last seats were being occupied in the balcony and the patrons at the head of the stage were getting closer and closer acquainted with their neighbors, a short melody rang out from the speakers and The Band flooded the stage.

For the first couple of songs, the crowd and the band were both just warming up to the journey that was ahead. The crowd was still getting situated and the band was trying to get its levels in check: the first songs favored the drums so much so that the vocals were drowned out and the harmonies that Sean Clavere and Katie Sweeney were offering fell on deaf ears. But, come the third song, Dalan threw out some hand signals to the sound engineers on the side of the stage, which quickly fixed the levels issue and got the band running.

One after another, the guest artists took the stage and blessed the crowd with their presences, leaving with enthusiastic cheers from the room. Harmonica solos by Kelly Van Camp got the crowd hollering while screechy fiddles by Geoffrey Castle, which the Devil himself would envy, made the whole floor shake from rattling feet. Flutes, guitars, and piercing vocals stopped our hearts, and the only thing that kept us alive was a steady drumbeat by Samford.

Even in the midst of rolling cheers, one vocalist’s performance really took it to another level. Stephanie Anne Johnson’s “Georgia on my Mind” was riveting. With soulful and insane vibrato that bounced off the dome-shaped room, her full-bodied voice plucked the strings of every attendee in that hall. When she left the stage, a thunderous roar leaped out from the audience with so much force and tension that you could almost see the air particles splitting from one another, forming little bolts of lightning that Zeus would marvel at.

By this time, people were moving side to side, dancing, cheering — having a blast — and, just like that, we made it to the finale. Like in the original The Last Waltz, every performer came back on stage; some grabbed a guitar, most huddled by one of three microphones and sang, “I shall be released” by Bob Dylan, who was one of the original guest artists.

Every nook and cranny was now filled with these stupendous voices coming together in a blend that spirited me away to a place of love. It was like being serenaded by a chorale of angels. That moment lasted but a few seconds in comparison, but the impact was a complete knockout, leaving the audience with a line that stuck to their brains like pasta to a wall, “any day now / any day now / I shall be released.”

This wonderful event has fed the spirits of countless people craving a taste for amazing music, but also, by passing along all the revenue to local non-profit Northwest Harvest, The Band was able to generate 150,000 meals for those in need just from this one show.

Great music for a great cause. See you next year.

Guest artists included: Ethan Anderson, Norman Baker, Hamilton Boyce, Trevor Pendras, Gus Clark, Shasta Bree, Kelly Van Camp, Geoffrey Castle, Sean Clavere, Katie Sweeney, Ryan Devlin, Kim West, Nick Foster, Kye Alfred Hillig, Stephanie Anne Johnson, Annie Jantzer, Nouela Johnston, Pete Jordan, Simon Kornelis, Michele Khazak, Jason Lackie, Fredd Luongo, Eric Martin, Christopher Michael Meyer, Danny Oleson, Leah Tousignant, and Greg Ruby.

-written for Dan's Tunes Seattle

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© 2018 Andrey Psyche

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