I’m with The Band

Dayton rockers unite to perform ‘The Last Waltz’

By Josher Lumpkin

Photo: Kyle Byrum, Tim Pritchard and Todd the Fox during a performance of Such a Night: The Last Waltz Live; photo: Jennifer Taylor

Almost exactly 38 years ago, classic rockers The Band teamed up with an all-star cast of musicians of many different types to perform what was supposed to be their farewell concert. Such diverse performers as Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, The Staple Singers and Bob Dylan were assembled under one roof to celebrate The Band’s incredible music career. The concert, billed as The Last Waltz, was captured on film by director Martin Scorsese and made into what is now considered one of the finest rock ‘n’ roll movies in history.

Flash forward to the present in Dayton, Ohio. A group of almost 30 of Dayton’s most talented musicians have been reenacting “The Last Waltz” in its entirety for eager audiences since February 2013. The show has been performed at various venues around town and almost always sells out.

On Nov. 26 and 28, Such a Night: The Last Waltz Live will be performed in the Dayton Art Institute’s NCR Renaissance Auditorium in what is anticipated to be two sold-out shows. Proceeds will benefit 91.3FM WYSO, the Miami Valley’s public radio station.

I got the opportunity to ask some of the performing musicians, as well as organizer Jeff Opt, about what “The Last Waltz” means to them and why, almost four decades later, the concert is still regarded as a masterpiece.

“I think it’s just the quality of music that keeps it alive,” Opt said. “The way I look at ‘The Last Waltz’ is like it’s at the same level as classical music. It’s the same kind of attraction. Scorsese put together a very compelling film that stands on its own as one of the best rock ‘n’ roll movies ever made, but then you add in the component of The Band and the quality of their music and then all the various guest stars that are there – the range of guest stars from Ronnie Hawkins, who was classic, traditional rock ‘n’ roll, all the way to Bob Dylan and people like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. So I think it’s just the whole breadth of talent that was represented.”

Tim Pritchard, of Tim Pritchard and the Boxcar Suite, will also be on stage for Such a Night. He told me about the significance of “The Last Waltz” in his life. “When I worked at Olympia Health Food in my early 20s, a couple that I met gave me a VHS tape of the film,” Pritchard said. “I was playing in Flyaway Minion at the time, and a bunch of us shared a house in Belmont. For over a year, we would watch it at least weekly. It had a fairly profound effect on us musically. The Band had a very unique approach to playing, one that was very much group oriented. They were a very song-oriented outfit, as well. They were great players with improvisational abilities, but the music is concise, lyrical and very dynamic. I think those are attributes I will always strive for in music.”

“‘The Last Waltz’ has matured over the years as a great document of where rock music was that night in 1976,” Jimmy Rogers, another performing musician, said of the film. “Sad to say that it kind of now represents the end of the classic rock era, as things have never been the same since. I saw the film twice the week it was released in 1978. A lot has gone down since then.”

Each of the performing musicians I spoke with sang the praises of Jeff Opt and the backing band for being the driving forces behind this event.

Performer Charlie Tipton said, “Even though we are working with a lot of people, nearly 30 musicians, it’s stress-free. Maybe it’s because of the leadership of Jeff Opt and how great the backing band is. The musicians in the show are the real deal.”

“Jeff Opt has done a tremendous job of organizing, directing and providing a platform for this project over the past two years,” Pritchard echoed. “All the folks involved have been incredible to work with, and I think anyone who has seen the handful of shows we’ve done will notice how much the core band has gelled over time. Each time we’ve performed it’s been stronger, and although we try to channel the energy of The Band, it has also taken on a sound of its own to some degree. We have a lot of people involved in the sonic signature here, and it’s totally cool.”

“What I love about this show is that we have multiple generations of musicians playing in it,” Opt said. “It’s intriguing because I’ve been going to shows here in Dayton since the ’80s. So at this show I get to see all my different friends. A lot of them had never worked together before, and, truthfully, I probably only knew about a third of the musicians before we started this whole thing. It’s really been neat to watch new friendships form through rehearsals and things like that.”

Such a Night: The Last Waltz Live will be performed on Wednesday, Nov. 26 and Friday, Nov. 28 in the NCR Renaissance Auditorium of the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. Admission is $25 for premium seating and $20 for all other seats for patrons of all ages. For more information, please visit daytonartinstitute.org/event/events-activities/special-events/such-night-last-waltz-live-benefit-wyso-913fm.

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Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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