One more Last Waltz

Local musicians revive legendary concert film at DAI

By Tim Walker

Photo: Gary Williams sings Muddy Waters’ ‘I’m a Man’; photos: Jennifer Taylor

For rock music fans of a certain age, going to see concert films at your local theatre was a hallowed tradition. Before MTV commandeered cable in the early 1980s, live concert films or late-night TV shows like Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert were the only way to experience your favorite rock bands with your eyes as well as your ears when they weren’t on tour. Usually viewed with friends at a midnight showing, often after ingesting a variety of illicit items and sometimes an alcoholic beverage or two, late night rock and roll flicks like “The Song Remains the Same,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Let There Be Rock,” “Woodstock,” and “Pink Floyd’s The Wall” were always accompanied by shouts from the audience for the projectionist to “Turn it up!”

And, when it comes to concert films, “The Last Waltz” is widely considered to be one of the very best. Directed by Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, (“Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas,” and “Casino”) and released in 1978, “The Last Waltz” is a beloved concert film and documentary that chronicles a legendary musical group, The Band, and what was billed as their final concert. The show, which took place at Bill Graham’s storied Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day, 1976 featured a number of musical guests who performed with The Band and who also appear in the film—Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Dr. John, and Eric Clapton among them. The Band itself, featuring musicians Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, and Rick Danko, is one of American music’s most iconic rock groups.

It has been called the greatest concert film ever made. It features stellar musical performances, a lineup of ’70s rock superstars, and some of the greatest rock songs ever written, “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and “I Shall Be Released” among them. It perfectly captures a unique moment in popular music—a venue, performers, a promoter, and an enthusiastic director who all contributed to make a copy of “The Last Waltz,” a necessary part of any music lover’s collection.

“It’s arguably one of the greatest concert films ever made, and it certainly set the tone for that whole genre,” says 49-year-old Daytonian Jeff Opt. To celebrate the film and its music, at the same time raising money for some great causes, Opt, who describes himself as a “community do-er”, has teamed up with a group of more than 30 local musicians to create the annual “Such a Night: The Last Waltz Live: A Benefit For WYSO 91.3 and The Dayton Art Institute.” This year’s two performances, which take place in the Renaissance Auditorium at the Art Institute, will begin at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23 and at the same time on Friday, Nov. 25.

“A little bit more than 30 of Dayton’s finest performers will appear, all gathered together to recreate the movie,” Opt says. “We play all the songs from the film, in the order they appear in the film, so it’s just like you cued up the movie. We even added a few that were filmed but didn’t make the original cut of the movie.” Opt explains this is the fourth year the annual performance has served as a fundraiser for WYSO 91.3 FM, and that the money raised also benefits the Dayton Art Institute.

“We see it, in a way, almost like a classical music piece,” Opt continues. “This is music that should be celebrated and enjoyed, and music that deserves to be performed live, not just limited to being stuck on film. What drove me early on—I saw it as a kid, and every time I see it—I always wonder what was going on outside the camera. Scorsese uses a lot of tight shots in that film, and part of my growing up was wondering what else was going on just outside the camera.”

Opt, who is known by many for his work with the Yellow Cab Tavern in the Oregon District, is the principal organizer behind the annual show, responsible for gathering together the large group of local musicians who combine to recreate the film’s stellar performances.

“We started with about nine people, and that was our core band,” he continues. “Then, they asked a few of their friends, who in turn asked more friends. And it just grew. For example, we perform with a horn section, and I didn’t know any of them at all when we started. It’s just a great show, with some great local musicians performing some great songs, and it’s all for a good cause. How can you go wrong with something like that?”

Such a Night: The Last Waltz Live takes place Wednesday, Nov. 23 and again on Friday, Nov. 25 at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park N. Show starts at 8:30 p.m., doors at 7. Tickets are available for $25 and $30 for premium seating, and there is also a VIP Package available. For more information, please visit DaytonArtInstitute.org.

 

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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