35 years ago tomorrow, one of the most important events in the history of rock and roll took place at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. It was on that Thanksgiving night that Bill Graham presented the Band in what was to be their farewell concert appearance, and they in turn brought along a lot of friends who had played a part in their career.
Fortunately, it wasn’t only musical friends who were there that night. Director Martin Scorcese was there too, and his film of the concert, along with three-disc soundtrack album, insured that the unforgettable evening would be experienced by millions of fans worldwide.
Musical guests that night included Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Bobby Charles, Ringo Starr, and Neil Young. But the indisputable highlight for me was the performance of Van Morrison, accompanied by the Band, on his song “Caravan”. It was a perfect example of how a passionate live performance can lift an already great song to another level.
I’ll never forget how Rolling Stone, in an early example of snark, likened Van’s performance to “Porky Pig doing the can-can.” It must be nice to be a smug, superior music critic, right? Whatever it may have looked like, those powerful kicks that Van delivered at the end of the song were a powerful part of the majesty of his performance, and the evening in general.
By now you are probably aware of the great audio and video offerings at Wolfgang’s Vault, but did you know that you can stream the uncut audio from the Last Waltz concert there for free? There is a ton of stuff that didn’t make it to the documentary, or the album. There is also a lot of raw video from the show at the site.
In my house, or whatever house I happen to be in for the holiday, watching or listening to The Last Waltz has become an annual tradition along with turkey, football, and the inevitable playing of “Alice’s Restaurant”. Give some thought to making it a part of your tradition. It’s music that will never let you down.
Finally, since it is Thanksgiving, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the readers who take the time to read this column every week, and to support Popdose in general. I am also thankful for all of my colleagues here who as a unit comprise one of the best writing teams you will find online or elsewhere.
Have a great holiday!