at last, the fifth

Even with the most literal of intentions, there has never been anything final about The Last Waltz.

The event was staged on Thanksgiving night of 1976 at the famed (and now, long defunct) San Francisco rock emporium known as Winterland. There, the five groundbreaking musicians known simply as The Band – one-time backup players for Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan as well as creators of such masterful Americana songs as The Weight, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and Up on Cripple Creek  – assembled for a final performance after a 16 year touring career.

The concert boasted a gallery of rock celebrities, including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and others. Martin Scorsese filmed the whole event while a subsequent multi-disc live album chronicled all of the music.

Of course, that wasn’t really the end of The Band. After regrouping in the ‘80s without guitarist/composer Robbie Robertson, it lost keyboardist Richard Manual (he hung himself in a Florida hotel room after a 1986 show) and eventually recorded three albums of varying quality before bassist Rick Danko died in 1999.

A few years back, local pop pro Ray live agaiSmith of the Lexington band Tula decided it would be a cool idea to stage a regional recreation of The Last Waltz as close to Thanksgiving weekend as possible by employing a legion of artists from here at home as the special guests. The result was a coming together of the Central Kentucky music scene that proved wildly popular. Initial performances at the original West Main locations of The Dame were sellouts.

And so Smith staged it again. And again. Now, the event still titled The Last Waltz is entering its 5th year. While the 2010 edition of The Last Waltz comes at the tail end of the Christmas season, its musical makeup will remain the same. Tula will serve as the house band, the guests will sing a song or two each and by the end of the evening, roughly the same setlist performed decades ago at Winterland – The Band’s hits as well as the cover tunes – will live again.

This year’s Last Waltz guest list will include Coralee, Otto Helmuth, Willie Eames, Karly Dawn Higgins, Brett Ratliff, Lee Owen, Brandon Bowlds, Robby Cosenza and more.

Cosenza takes special honors in local Last Waltz history for taking on what has long been considered the program’s least loved song, Neil Diamond’s Dry Your Eyes. Diamond was invited to the Winterland Last Waltz because Robertson produced the singer’s then-newest album. Cosenza’s rendition has been eerily and almost comically faithful to the Diamond original.

Otherwise, the main thing to keep in mind is the Lexington Last Waltz concerts, which have become part of local music tradition, almost always sellout. The more expansive confines of Buster’s ensure room for a bigger turnout. Still, expect little by way of waltzing room on Saturday when Tula again strikes up The Band.

The Last Waltz will be performed at 9 toight at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. Admission is $10. Call (859) 368-8871.



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