still striking up the band

It wasn’t a case of the annual Lexington performance tribute to The Last Waltz throwing in the towel. But after six years, a few of the key participants were wondering if taking a breather after 2011 might be in order.

“We had decided that we were going to let it rest for a year and kind of renew ourselves,” said Ray Smith, principal organizer of The Last Waltz. “But then, Clark (Case, owner/manager of Buster’s) kept texting me about it. Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, he sent me a screen shot with some messages off Facebook from people saying, ‘This is a holiday tradition. When is it going to happen?’ That day I texted everybody and, ‘Let’s do it.’ And everybody was in.”

For the uninitiated, The Last Waltz was the final concert by the original version of The Band. Staged on Thanksgiving Night of 1976 and filmed for posterity by Martin Scorsese, The Band invited several high profile guests to participate in the performance, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Eric Clapton, among many years.

Smith and his band Tula never set out to recreate the performances of the original Last Waltz. Their goal was simply to interpret the songs – whether they were by The Band or the guest artists – played in the 1976 concert, irregardless of whether they made the final cut in Scorsese’s film.

“The question everybody always asks is, ‘Who’s going to be Van Morrison?’ or ‘Who’s going to be Bob Dylan?’ We’ve never approached it that way. We don’t assign roles. We just try to find good matches – good people that can embody the songs.”

This year’s Last Waltz features several Lexington regulars – specifically, Coralee, Robby Cosenza, Matt Duncan, Otto Helmuth, Willie Eames, Mike Tevis, Fred Sexton and others – as well as a few prime first timers, including singer Erin Reynolds (from Oh My Me) and Nashville’s Kenny Vaughan and Sam Lewis (who have become semi-regulars through several bookings at Willie’s Locally Known).

Also new at this year’s Last Waltz will be an opening set by local roots music faves The Swells devoted exclusively to the solo career recordings of Band drummer Levon Helm, who died earlier this year.

“They had already been working on a bunch of Levon songs,” Smith said. “So this wasn’t scripted at all. It was just once of those really cool things.”

The 7th Annual Tribute to The Last Waltz – 9 p.m. Dec. 29 at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 368-8871 or go to

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