It’s time to move on.

I’ve been living with The Band and their friends from the 60s & 70s for over three months. Having already viewed The Last Waltz about a dozen times, I must have seen it a dozen more in the weeks leading up to our anniversary concert November 25th at The Corona. I had to get myself back to that night in San Fransisco in 1976 again and again, hoping at least some of it would rub off in the production and presentation of our event. This was hardly painful. But I did learn, after all these years, that the rolling drum intro to Neil Diamond’s “Dry Your Eyes” was supplied by his own drummer, Dennis St. John. (I always wondered about it. Didn’t sound like Levon Helm. I thought maybe it was Richard Manuel.) Watch it again. You can (barely) make out big Dennis behind the drums.

Looking back 40 years later it’s easy to say that of course it had to be Martin Scorsese to direct The Last Waltz. But it wasn’t such an easy call at the time. Scorsese had directed Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Taxi Driver. But that was it. He had clearly established a certain style and grittiness and his music chops but was still a long way away from iconic status. Yet Robbie Robertson – a major film buff (he read movie scripts to help him write songs) – was clued in enough to tap Scorsese for the project, even though the director was already in post-production for New York, New York.

I decided to pay homage to The Last Waltz because our Bob Dylan 75th birthday tribute/fundraiser in May had gone so well. I thought about upcoming milestones (including the debut album by The Ramones) and realized The Band’s farewell concert was late enough during the year that it would give us plenty of time to produce and promote. As it turned out, November 25 was a Friday. Perfect. But it did get a little sticky.

I first mentioned the idea to Shane Murphy. He loved it. He suggested a bill headed up by Sam Roberts with special guest Garth Hudson. After contacting Sam’s management I discovered that he was prepping a new studio album (TerraForm) and a tour to follow that would take him to Boston the night of our event. And when Gary Silverman contacted Garth’s manager-wife Maude, we were informed in a very friendly and appreciative manner that a promoter in New Zealand was planning a three day event to also commemorate The Last Waltz.

In early June, Howard Bilerman hosted a BBQ/movie night (as he often does) and I dropped the idea to him very matter-of-factly between bites of a perfectly cooked Mister Steer burger. I hadn’t met Howard prior to the Dylan event but quickly learned he had impeccable taste in music and could certainly help fill out a roster of talent. He, too, loved the idea. He would revive his Hotel2Tango All-Stars and suggested The Barr Brothers as the house band. I corresponded with drummer Andrew Barr on several occasions. They were clearly into it but were concerned about a possible scheduling conflict. With time running short, Andrew had to decline but was very helpful in suggesting other musicians/bands who might be up to the occasion. Meanwhile, I contacted The Felice Brothers from upstate New York. I had seen them at Bonnaroo in 2008 and there was a clear spiritual connection to The Band. But they too would be busy on November 25 playing an anniversary concert of their own (their 10th) at Bearsville Theatre in Woodstock.

By mid-August I knew we’d have Howard’s super group plus Shane Murphy and John Jacob Magistery. I didn’t want an instant replay of the Dylan event at Club Soda with many of the same musicians. I was looking for a different vibe – which is why I put a hold on The Corona Theatre for November 25. The event was definitely more theatre-like in scope. Plus, this was not a charity event. We were looking to sell at least 800 tickets. We needed some box office help.

Following another meeting with Howard in Old Montreal I contacted Nicolas Basque of Plants & Animals. We went back and forth several times but, like Sam Roberts, they also had a new album out with concert dates lined up and ultimately couldn’t clear enough time to properly prepare for November 25.

I wanted three months to sell the concert. We were closing in on September and we had at least a couple of hours to fill. Then I realized that if I had sought out talent in what was The Band’s home base of Woodstock (just like The Felice Brothers, the multi-talented piano player Marco Benevento was already booked to play elsewhere) then maybe I should start looking at The Band’s home province of Ontario, and specifically the Toronto area. Turns out Howard had recorded two albums by The Wooden Sky and he urged me to get in touch with singer-lyricist Gavin Gardiner. (I had never even heard of this indie group. Now – after listening to everything they’ve done – they’ve become my new favourite band in Canada.) They were in.

My next target was legendary Canadian singer and guitarist extraordinaire Bruce Cockburn. This brought me back to Jack Ross where I had started in the summer in an attempt to secure Sam Roberts. Jack is part of the powerful United Talent Agency. As I prepped my pitch to Cockburn I noticed the names of so many other artists I admire who were under the UTA umbrella. In fact, it seemed like part of a regular play list from my radio show. So I inquired about several others. Turned out that Cockburn would cost too much to fly in from California while a couple of other musicians were simply not available. But, fortunately, Jack said that Matt Mays and Tom Wilson were huge fans of The Band and would likely be interested. I remember seeing Tom as part of a Canadian tribute to The Last Waltz that was performed at the Glenn Gould Theatre at the CBC on Front Street in 2000 – an event I was invited to by Stephen Brunt. Tom’s cover of “Caravan” was memorable to say the least. And Matt Mays has always been one of my favourite rock and rollers – Canadian or otherwise. I hadn’t realized he had moved from Halifax to Toronto. We were finally getting somewhere.

I thought about the many musical guests we had hosted in our radio studio and I kept coming back to Scarlett Jane. We needed women on stage. I was so impressed by the talent and playfulness of Cindy Doire and Andrea Ramolo when they visited prior to a concert at Cafe Campus. I contacted Andrea via Facebook. She explained that while Cindy was about to leave for Europe she was prepping a new solo album (Nuda) and would very much like to be part of the event.

The next several weeks was a stressful blur of emails, texts, social media postings and the occasional online bank visit. I received daily updates of ticket sales every morning at 7, right around the time my diabetic and asthmatic cat named Whiskey would wake me anyway. We sold a couple of hundred tickets in a relatively short period of time. Then came the hard part. Fortunately, through my own show and with the help of others, we were able to get the word out. What I hadn’t counted on was a boost in awareness brought about by Robbie Robertson’s long awaited memoir Testimony (which included this conversation with me) and a full court press (ha ha) on the upcoming 40th anniversary of the concert. This all created a major buzz and ultimately resulted in something not often found on the street outside of The Corona-ticket scalpers. We were all but sold out five days before the concert and had to put an end to online sales.

Thank you to all the musicians, as I did in the immediate aftermath of the event in case you missed it. The music could not have turned out better.

It was very cool to see Mack MacKenzie in this environment. So many musicians speak of their love of Three O’Clock Train. Mack really wanted to perform an ancient Dylan song covered by Elvis – “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” (filed for our next Dylan tribute in five years). But I think he nailed the two Dylan gems from the 70s. Thanks to Dan Moscovitch for recommending High & Mighty and their emphasis on strong harmonies. I loved seeing the collaborations between musicians who had never played together including Andrea Ramolo with High & Mighty, Rob Lutes and his band with the colourful Tom Wilson and Shane Murphy & Matt Mays who seemed to bond instantly once Matt (who blistered his way through a couple of Neil Young classics and a surprise cover of Dylan’s “Meet Me In The Morning”) saw Shane perform a set at The Dakota Tavern in Toronto. Plus, the Leonard Cohen tribute by Andrea and the Wooden Sky was only worked out backstage. I know it held great meaning for Andrea who regularly stayed at Leonard’s place in Montreal while Gavin Gardiner deserves a lot of credit for agreeing to move outside his comfort zone for the occasion. And that violin solo by Edwin Huizinga was just perfect. I know the performance stopped a lot of people in their tracks as they were on their way out. And how cool was it to see mighty NDG bring it all home with a rousing version of “Don’t Do It” headed up by Johnny Griffin and John Jacob Magistery plus Shane Murphy and his boys augmented by Matt Mays?

The entire night was full of highlights but I’ll never forget the reaction to Angela Desvaux’s vocal turn during “Evangaline” by the Hotel2Tango All Stars. What a great, knowledgeable music crowd, spurred on, no doubt, by the earlier bar-raising sets by Chris Velan (whose group probably came the closest to matching the actual sound of The Band), The Wooden Sky (Gavin Gardiner was playing for keeps starting with his nod to Richard Manuel’s take on “I Shall Be Released”) and Tom Wilson whose on stage charisma forced many in the crowd to wonder why they hadn’t clued into him before. And then there was the heavyweight champ of Billy Bob Productions – Shane Murphy – channelling Muddy Waters and Paul Butterfield and Eric Clapton and every other bluesman who so heavily influenced The Band and all of rock and roll. The only thing missing was Scorsese and his crew.

I’m eternally grateful to Bill Brownstein (again) for his similar love of music and a good story. Thanks as well to Paul Spence for his spirit-catching piece in CultMtl and to Walter Lyng for the pic and story in The Suburban. Plus my many radio friends who were eager to help including Aaron Rand, Terry Di Monte, Bilal Butt, Andrew Carter, Dave Kaufman, Conor McKenna, Ken Connors, Randy Renaud and a few others I’m sure who I have never met.

Leonard Yelle (MoJo Len) again provided hours of leg work by printing out and distributing our posters and postcards (payment to follow once we start selling some of them. And we will.) which were designed by Kesh Dheer. Thanks to the many merchants who allowed Len to slap the posters on a wall or door. Kesh was also responsible for the production work during the concert.

Thanks to Gillian Sonin for the early and late PR help. And to Anna Mushynski for the social media updates and on site stage managing and Phoenix for the merch table.

Thanks again to Jack Ross in Toronto and Mike Greatorex in Halifax.

Thanks to the staff at The Corona Theatre headed up by Vincent Menard and Evenko’s Demi Begin, plus sound director Marc-Andre Thibert, lighting director Luc Mammoliti, Blaise Bernier on monitors and Sergio Antunes for the stage help.

Our photographer was Tim Snow. There will be a posting of Tim’s photos (not seen here) in a separate blog.

Much thanks as well to Shane Murphy for again doing all of the music grunt work and for pushing for the revival of Billy Bob Productions which also includes my pals-partners Gary Silverman and Lloyd Fischler. And to Howard Bilerman for never hesitating when asked for help and for creating so much enthusiasm in his own weighty musical community of singers, bands and artists.

Very special thanks to Rob Braide, Peter Starr, Stephen Brunt & Jeanie MacFarlane, J.D. Miller, Mitch Garber and Stephen Bronfman.

Thanks always and for everything to Allyson Rennie.

Just before we get to the set list – A lot of people wanted to know how the song selections came about. I specifically picked a few songs I knew would be a good fit (“It Makes No Difference” and “Georgia” for Johnny Griffin, “Hazel” for Mack Mackenzie, “Who Do You Love” for Rob Lutes, “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” for Shane Murphy & Matt Mays plus the ensemble encores) while I requested a list of 6-8 tunes from each artist so I had some idea what we might be working with. (Howard grabbed “The Shape I’m In” even before he finished that steerburger.) I knew Shane would be carrying the Blues segment highlighted by Muddy Waters’s “Mannish Boy”. And he had already recorded “She’s Alright” for an upcoming EP and regularly tears it up during his live performances. “Further On Up The Road” was another obvious choice but I did want to add something special, so I came up with the four headed guitar solo idea, only settling on our 4th guitarist 10 days before the event after bumping into Patrick Krief at our live Bell Media radio room downstairs from our studios after Patrick had opened up a CHOM event for Sam Roberts. But I also sent out a master list of songs by The Band and their friends that were not performed at The Last Waltz. I didn’t want a straight carbon copy of the evening. But I did want to keep it to the era of The Band (roughly 1966 – 1976). Eventually, after very little crossover choices, we were able to come up with the varied set list you see below.

Set list:

  1. “Golden Years” – David Bowie (recording w/1976 montage)
  2. “The Last Waltz Theme” (Intro) (Opening of “The Last Waltz” movie)
  3. “Up On Cripple Creek” – High & Mighty w/ Andrea Ramolo (Clay Upex – lead vocals & guitar, Jake Upex – bass & vocals, Ben Massicotte – guitar, Dan Moscovitch – drums, Andrea Ramolo – harmony vocals & guitar)
  4. “Ophelia” – High & Mighty w/ Andrea Ramolo
  5. “Dry Your Eyes” – High & Mighty (Jake Upex lead vocal) w/ Andrea Ramolo
  6. “Sin City” – Andrea Ramolo (lead vocals & acoustic guitar) w/ High & Mighty
  7. “Oh Sister” – Andrea Ramolo (lead vocals & acoustic guitar) w/ High & Mighty (Jake Upex – violin)
  8. “Simple Twist Of Fate” – Mack MacKenzie – vocals & acoustic guitar w/ Shane Murphy (lead electric guitar) Alec McElcheren (bass), Tony Albino (drums), Bobby Stagg (Hammond B3/Keys)
  9. “Long May You Run” – Mack MacKenzie w/ Shane Murphy et al
  10. “Hazel” – Mack MacKenzie w/ Shane Murphy et al
  11. Dean Hagopian Tribute to Ronnie Hawkins & Garth Hudson
  12. “Who Do You Love” – Rob Lutes (lead vocals and acoustic guitar), Rob MacDonald (lead electric guitar),  Alec McElcheren (bass), David Paul Neil (drums), Bobby Stagg (keys)
  13. “W.S. Walcott Medicine Show” – Rob Lutes et al
  14. “The Rumour” – John Jacob Magistery (Johnny Griffin – vocals & guitar, Francois Jalbert – lead guitar, Andrea Galamba – bass, Mackenzie Myatt – violin & vocals, Anthony Lombardi – drums)
  15. “Yazoo Street Scandal” – John Jacob Magistery w/ Simon Nakonechny on Hammond B3
  16. “Georgia On My Mind” – John Jacob Magistery w/ Simon Nakonechny on Hammond B3
  17. “It Makes No Difference” – John Jacob Magistery     END ACT I (Intermission)
  18. ACT II “Long Black Veil” – Chris Velan (lead vocals & electric guitar), Mike O’Brien (lead guitar & vocals), Mike Felber (bass), Jeff Louch (keys/Hammond B3), Bucky Wheaton (drums)
  19. “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” – Chris Velan et al
  20. “Tears Of Rage” – Chris Velan et al
  21. “Stage Freight” – Chris Velan et al
  22. “I’m not sure if this is because I’m getting old but, today, I find myself writing less about the rose-hearted blush of new love and more about discount medicine” – Poem by Dave McGimpsey
  23. “I Shall Be Released” – The Wooden Sky (Gavin Gardiner – lead vocals & guitar), Simon Walker (guitar,keys,Hammond B3,vocals), Andrew Wyatt (bass & vocals), Andrew Kekewich (drums), Edwin Huizinga (violin)
  24. “Unfaithful Servant” – The Wooden Sky
  25. “Forever Young” (w/montage) – The Wooden Sky
  26. “Rag Mama Rag” – The Wooden Sky
  27. “And It Stoned Me” – Tom Wilson (lead vocal & acoustic guitar) w/ Rob Lutes (acoustic guitar & vocals), Rob MacDonald (lead guitar), Alec McElcheren (bass & vocals), Bobby Stagg (keys), David Paul Neil (drums)
  28. “Comes A Time” – Tom Wilson et al
  29. “Solitary Man” – Tom Wilson (solo) w/ Bobby Stagg (trumpet)
  30. “Caravan” – Tom Wilson et al
  31. “Such A Night” – Dr. John (From the film “The Last Waltz”)
  32. “The Shape I’m In” – Hotel2Tango All-Stars (Mike O’Brien lead vocal) (Howard Bilerman – drums, Tim Kingsbury – vocals & guitar, Mike O’Brien – vocals, lead guitar & mandolin, Angela Desvaux – vocals & guitar, Tamara Lindeman – vocals, Joel Kerr – bass, Simon Nakonechny (Hammond B3/keys/saxophone)
  33. “Helpless” – Hotel2Tango All-Stars w/Tim Kingsbury lead vocal w/ Steve Herskovitz (harmonica)
  34. “Coyote” – Hotel2Tango All-Stars w/ Tamara Lindeman lead vocal
  35. “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” – Hotel2Tango All-Stars w/ Tim Kingsbury lead vocal
  36. “Evangaline” – Hotel2Tango All-Stars w/ Tim Kingsbury/Angela Desvaux/Mike O’Brien lead vocals, Simon Nakonechny (accordion)
  37. “Mannish Boy” – Shane Murphy (lead vocals & lead guitar), Alec McElcheren (bass), Tony Albino (drums), Bobby Stagg (keys/Hammond B3), Chris Hein (Harmonica)
  38. “She’s Alright” – Shane Murphy et al
  39. “Mystery Train” – Shane Murphy et al
  40. “Further On Up The Road” – Shane Murphy et al w/ Mike O’Brien (guitar solo), Patrick Krief (guitar solo) & Rob MacDonald (guitar solo)
  41. “C’mon Baby Let’s Go Downtown” – Matt Mays (lead vocal & electric guitar) w/ Shane Murphy (guitar & vocals), Alec McElcheren (bass), Bobby Stagg (keys/Hammond B3), Tony Albino (drums) & Anthony Lombardi (drums)
  42. “Bar Stool Blues” – Matt Mays w/ Shane Murphy et al
  43. “Meet Me In The Morning” – Matt Mays w/ Shane Murphy et al
  44. “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” – Shane Murphy/Matt Mays et al    END ACT II
  45. ACT III (Encore #1) “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down” – Shane Murphy (lead vocal & guitar), Matt Mays (vocal & guitar), Alec McElcheren (bass), Bobby Stagg (trumpet/keys), Tony Albino (drums), Anthony Lombardi (drums), Rob MacDonald (guitar), Mack MacKenzie (vocal), Clay Upex (vocal), Jake Upex (vocal), Ben Massicotte (vocal), Andrea Ramolo (vocal), Andrea Grambala (vocal), Tom Wilson (vocal), Rob Lutes (vocal), Johnny Griffin (vocal), Gavin Gardiner (vocal), Andrew Wyatt (bass & vocal), Simon Nachonechny (saxophone)
  46. (Encore #2) “The Weight” – Shane Murphy (vocal & guitar), Matt Mays (vocal & guitar), Alec McElcheren (bass), Bobby Stagg (keys), Tony Albino (drums), Anthony Lombardi (drums), Rob MacDonald (guitar), Andrea Ramolo (vocals), Angela Desvaux (vocals), Rob Lutes (vocals), Tim Kingsbury (vocals), Gavin Gardiner (vocals), Andrew Wyatt (vocals), Clay Upex (vocals), Jake Upex (vocals), Ben Massicotte (vocals), Johnny Griffin (vocals), Tom Wilson (vocals), Mack MacKenzie (vocals), Andrea Grambala (vocals), Chris Velan (vocals), Daniel Moscovitch (vocals), Dave McGimpsey (vocals), Bilal Butt (vocals)
  47. (Encore #3) “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” – Andrea Ramolo (lead vocal & acoustic guitar), Gavin Gardiner (vocal & acoustic guitar), Andrew Wyatt (bass) & Edwin Huizuinga (violin)
  48. (Encore #4) “Don’t Do It” – John Jacob Magistery (Johnny Griffin-lead vocal & guitar, Mackenzie Myatt – vocal & shaker, Andrea Grambala – bass, Anthony Lombardi – drums), w/ Shane Murphy (lead vocal & lead guitar), Matt Mays (lead vocal & guitar), Bobby Stagg (keys)
  49. “The Last Waltz Theme “(Closing Credits from the film “The Last Waltz”)


And thank you to Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson & Martin Scorsese.

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