By Brian Turk
The farewell concert appearance by Americana rock game changers The Band was held at The Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1974. The elaborate and highly anticipated affair featured not only the five members of The Band, but an astounding 32 guest musicians as well. Those friends of The Band who came to pay their respects included superstars such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Muddy Waters. The concert alone would have been legendary, but the world would not have formed such a bond with the event if it weren’t for Martin Scorsese capturing it on film.
Scorsese’s documentary has been famously hailed as one of the greatest concert films ever made and it’s been released and re-released over the years in special editions, including, in 2006, when it was one of the first eight titles that Sony released for their Blu-Ray format.
The film is loved and revered by many, however, four-fifths of The Band see it differently. In Levon Helm’s 1993 autobiography “This Wheel’s on Fire” the legendary drummer called The Last Waltz “the biggest fucking rip-off that ever happened to The Band.” Helm went on to claim that neither he, nor any member of the group except for guitarist Robbie Robertson, made any money from the various home releases. That certainly played a large role in the 1983 decision by Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel to reform The Band without Robertson. The true, final end of The Band happened in 1999, when Danko died in his sleep.
Still, even with those controversies in mind, the film stands as proof of a coming together of musicians on an epic scale and that legacy is not only being honored but recreated every year within the Denver music community.
Ten years ago two pillars of the Denver music scene, CR Gruver and Tori Pater, decided to recreate The Last Waltz with 16 guest musicians — which seemed like a lot at the time. They had no idea the show would be nearly as successful as it was, nor that it would become an integral part of the holiday season for thousands along the Front Range. The Last Waltz Revisited is now celebrated in both Denver and Boulder, and this year’s Denver show will be held in the expansive Fillmore Auditorium with an unbelievable 50-plus musicians involved.
Keyboardist CR Gruver, who now lives in New Orleans and tours with the New Orleans Suspects, said during a recent interview with The Marquee that their original decision to reproduce the concert was for fun, but that it’s become so much more. “The original idea came about when Polytoxic were doing these ‘Album of The Month Club’ shows at Dulcinea’s,” said Gruver, “In late December of 2004 Tori and I started talking about doing an ‘Album of The Month Club’ show that involved a lot of other local musicians. Tori Pater and I were living together at the time, and our neighbor wound up bringing over The Last Waltz DVD as a Christmas present for us. As soon as we watched it we knew this was what we were looking for. We realized we had almost 10 of these musicians ‘cast’ without even thinking about it. We recreated The Last Waltz for the first time on May 25, 2005, which happened to be my birthday.”
Dulcinea’s, which later became Pete’s Monkey Bar, and is now a small corner of 1UP Colfax, held 80 people, but ticket sales reached nearly 400. Then owner Jay Bianchi cleared out every pool table and piece of furniture in the club in order to make room, and placed everything in Dulcinea’s back alley, creating an outdoor greenroom for all of the musicians involved. The event just steamrolled from there.
“The first one we did that May at Dulcinea’s, we sold almost 400 tickets,” said Pater, in a separate interview with The Marquee. “Then we went to Cervantes’ in November of 2005 and sold 800 tickets. We sold out Cervantes for a few years, and then moved to The Ogden which holds 1,700, and sold that out the past few years. Since we started this, our goal was to have this show at The Fillmore on our tenth year. To have it come to fruition is amazing. Literally a dream come true. The Last Waltz is the only show you will hear me brag about. CR and I spend a lot of time putting this together, but honestly, once the show starts, we just let our friends kick ass. People come up to us all the time and say the Last Waltz is a tradition during their holiday season.”
Tackling the recreation of The Last Waltz is no small endeavor, and each year’s show requires ten months of planning. Not only is the planning done with precision, but the arrangements of each song are methodically planned as well. “CR is meticulous when it comes to the arrangements of these songs. Some of The Band’s writing is far from simple. Some of it is written like classical music — the chording, the depth and the layers. They are written like a classical piece, not a rock and roll song. We took the time to learn the vocals as they were originally written. We will never play it like The Band, but we approach it with reverence,” Pater said.
The nearly 60 guest musicians who are involved in this production have been working all year, and in many cases multiple years on the role they have been cast in. Most of the musicians Gruver and Pater invited to play for their first Last Waltz Revisited are still playing ten years later and 40 more fresh faces have joined on over the past decade. The reason this event was put on with confidence 10 years ago was not only because of the ability level of all the musicians involved, but also because Gruver and Pater knew their friends could fill the roles so well. “When we first watched the DVD together, we immediately saw Christie Chambers as Joni Mitchell, Peter Stelling as Eric Clapton, Eric Martinez as Neil Young, Aaron Rose as Neil Diamond, and so on. These musicians throw themselves into the role, and many have perfected it over ten years,” Gruver said.
The Last Waltz, and The Last Waltz Revisited, are lengthy concerts. The original 1974 show started at 5 p.m. with a Thanksgiving turkey dinner and didn’t wrap up until close to 2 a.m., almost nine hours later. But the constant rotation of musicians keep the energy of the recreation high. “Every song has at least one new player on it, so every song is fresh.” said Gruver. “We have three separate core bands, which are bass player and drum combo’s, that rotate throughout the night. Each one of those core bands does 10 songs. The only people who stay on stage the entire time are Tori and I, and the Denver Horns.”
The success of the performances has also allowed Gruver and Pater to make the event grow each year, but to also get it to a point where, in the Thanksgiving spirit, the concert can also be a contributing part of the community.
The Last Waltz Revisted has teamed with The Denver Rescue Mission, and part of the show’s proceeds benefit the organization. “They serve over 1,500 meals a day, every day of the week, every week of the year,” explained Gruver. “It’s a truly incredible organization.”
Concert goers who want to extend the benefit aspect of the show can bring ten cans of food or desired hygiene items to the box office the day of the show and get a commemorative poster.
The Last Waltz Revisited is a show unlike any other, based on an epic night and film unlike any other, and Pater said he feels honored that the community has supported their project with such enthusiasm. “I want to express my gratitude to everyone who plays in it and everyone who supports it,” Pater said. “It is my favorite show of the year. As a matter of fact it is as important to me as every other holiday in the year, combined. There isn’t much of a separation between the audience and the stage. No matter who you are, you like ‘The Weight,’ and you like ‘Up On Cripple Creek.’ Nobody hears ‘The Weight’ and doesn’t sing along. One of my favorite things in the world is when folks sing along. As long as folks keep coming, we will keep doing it.”
| The Last Waltz Revisited |
| Boulder Theater | November 21 |
| Fillmore Auditorium | November 26 |
Recommended if you Like
• The Band
• Bob Dylan
• Neil Young