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  • Andrey Psyche

The Last Waltz Tribute six: attack of the flaming trumpet

November 30, 2019: Neptune Theatre

Performers in the sixth annual Tribute to The Last Waltz gather on stage at the end of the show. // Photo by Andrey Psyche

For the sixth year in a row, Seattle’s Tribute to The Last Waltz went strong by continuing to bring stellar acts together under one roof to help fight hunger in the state of Washington. The annual benefit concert hosts a food drive and also donates proceeds from the show to Northwest Harvest, a statewide hunger relief organization. By intermission, this single event had raised over 105,000 meals for families throughout Washington State.

Over 20 musical guests — along with The Band band: drummer and vocalist Jasen Samford, guitarist Joe Michiels, bassist and vocalist Michael Rognlie, and pianists/organists Leif Dalan and Bill Nordwall —donated their time yet another year to bring in a crowd of enthusiastic philanthropists to get on the dance floor and shake the cobwebs off their trusty dance shoes.

Although the entire night is a compilation of local musicians giving it all they’ve got, the energy in the crowd — and on stage — felt a lot more like live theater than any other local show you might find yourself at. The artists strutted out onto the stage with a proven swagger, almost as if the original artists they were covering were standing right beside them, giving them that magic touch that gets everyone drunk on every word they say.

That magic was especially apparent in performances by Smokey Brights’s Ryan Devlin and Kim West —  who have unimaginable chemistry, funky dance moves, and memorable, 70s-inspired attire — and from Kye Alfred Hillig, who came on stage like a wild animal, strumming his guitar, rocking back and forth to the beat in a hypnotic fury so much so that little beads of sweat would run off his forehead and plummet to the ground with each downbeat. He brought so much energy that the whole concert could have been powered by his performance alone.

Soul/country singer-songwriter Stephanie Anne Johnson, though, challenged Hillig for most infectious energy with her performance of the same song as last year, “Georgia On My Mind.” She was stupendous and imbued even more magic behind the words, which seemed almost impossible. Johnson was able to transport the entire auditorium through space and time in a matter of seconds. It was no surprise that the entire balcony gave her a standing ovation, and all it took was no more than four minutes of being present.

“People need to be present,” said Johnson in a conversation after the show. “Take me for instance. “When I open my eyes [to the present moment], everything is dope, and I do dope shit.”

And dope shit she did do.

Slowly, artist by artist came and went, satisfying our desires but always leaving us wanting more. But, if for some reason, in the middle of all of this incredible music, you hoped for more pizazz, well, count your lucky stars! During the first act finale, Billy Joe Huels pulled out a trumpet and a lighter and set his bell ablaze mid-performance. Was anyone expecting that? Not at all, and the uproar that traveled across the theater could be felt from all directions.

After the short intermission, things only got better. More harmonies, more energy, and more rock stars owned the stage. One artist that caught my eye was twenty-year-old Cameron Lavi-Jones (of newly-renamed King Youngblood, formerly Gypsy Temple.)

Lavi-Jones took the stage with some light banter, and, before the music kicked in, he said, “now let me show you why they asked me here.” From that moment on, the world seemed to tilt sideways. His facial expressions could reach the back of the theater; his guitar solos stapled wings of ecstasy to the melody; even his movement around the stage was too tantalizing to miss, especially with his hair flailing with every riff.

As everyone was getting ready to say their goodbyes and rush the stage to perform the finale, I was able to track down Pete Jordan, of Cloud Person, who delivered an extremely earthy and grounding performance that forced people to dig into themselves for the duration of his song. It wasn’t as flashy as the others. The music felt dense and directed, and the thickness allowed everyone to experience the full range of emotions and greet the lows that highlights the highs.

Getting a moment to hear his thoughts on what is lacking in our lives started out as a rather simple answer about expressing our emotions but quickly evolved into a recount of his writing process and performance style that allows his audience to feel their own feelings with Jordan as proxy. He stressed that we are all confused, and by taking the time to processes his own tangled mess, he feels like he is untangling the collective confusion, which hopefully brings a greater sense of understanding, unity, and, most importantly, empowerment.

Midway through the conversation, I asked Jordan what he would whisper into everyone’s ears tonight if he could.

His answer: “rise up and take over.”

After sitting with the balcony crowd (who were dancing wherever they found space), dancing in front of the stage, and climbing Rapunzel’s tower to the green room to chat with the artists, the night finally came to an end, but not before yet another explosive finale. The audience was left completely stunned in amazement as all the artists from the evening filled the stage and performed Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” offering a final gift of serenity to the entire audience for their drive home.

If you were present for this sixth gathering, you witnessed greatness once again. If reading this article is your first experience of the show, I urge you to mark your calendars right now and set yourself a reminder to be at the Neptune next year to catch this incredible performance with your own eyes. It only seems to get better each year.

A full list of the performing artists can be found on Seattle’s Tribute to The Last Waltz’s official website.

Original post was written for Dans Tunes Seattle

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© 2018 Andrey Psyche

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