On the Spot: ‘The Last Waltz’

by Nick Pittman

Locals recreate The Band’s final peformance Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at Acadiana Center for the Arts.

Somehow, “Way Down South in New Orleans” by the late Bobby Charles of Abbeville didn’t make the final cut in Martin Scorsese’s documentary of The Band’s The Last Waltz. Anyone who has ever heard the rollicking number, with lines like “I want to get too loose, on Toulouse Street,” knows this is a shame. When a plethora of local talents honor the 40th anniversary of The Band’s final performance memorialized in Scorsese’s rock doc via a song-by-song tribute, the wrong will be righted.

The Last Waltz was the roots-rock group’s farewell to a far-too-short career and is regarded as the greatest concert film of all time. The line-up included more than a dozen guest stars ranging from Neil Diamond to Bob Dylan, who will all be represented by locals like Roddie Romero, C.C. Adcock and Tommy McClain. Event organizer and participant Blayze Viator talks about the show.

Walk me through the set. Who will sing what? How will it go?
So, the idea is for the set to run almost exactly as the Scorsese film. The performance will begin with the intro sequence of the film projected through the darkness onto the back wall behind the stage, followed by the opening number, “Don’t Do It,” kicking off with stage lights coming up shortly after the first notes. The show will continue in this manner with the film interviews of The Band screened between performances. For the most part, I’ll be the voice of Levon Helm, while Christiaan Mader will be that of Rick Danko, with Dave Trainer and I splitting the Richard Manuel parts.

There’s a lot of bands that get tributes through local hoot nights. What made y’all choose this route?
Back in June, John and I were playing as a duo for a brunch gig when I randomly started playing some songs by The Band that we’d never even done together. Afterward, John mentioned other cities like Austin doing The Last Waltz each year and how cool it would be if we did one in Lafayette. It also happens to be the 40th anniversary this Thanksgiving. So, I started making phone calls about a week later. It was initially booked at Feed & Seed, but luckily Gerd (Wuestemann, executive director ) at AcA picked it up just as they announced they were closing as a venue.

Who will sing the guest spots?
Tommy McClain will do Ronnie Hawkins; Kelli Jones-Savoy — Joni Mitchell; Caleb Elliot — Neil Young; Northside Eric (Schexneider) — Neil Diamond; Wilson Savoy — Dr. John; Roddie Romero/Ray Boudreaux — Van Morison; Cedric Watson and Lil’ Buck Senegal — Muddy Waters; CC Adcock — Eric Clapton; Anna Laura Edmiston — Emmy Lou Harris; Rex Moroux — Bob Dylan. (Ray Boudreaux will perform as Van for the first night, then Roddie will assume the part for the second night. Buck and Cedric will both be taking on Muddy Waters for both nights.)

What song/artist are you most looking forward to?
Personally, while I’m certain everyone involved will be fantastic, I’m can’t wait to see/hear Northside Eric as Neil Diamond and to see Ray Boudreaux and Roddie Romero in a purple spandex jumpsuit, all of which will be equal parts amazing and hilarious.

How did the artists get paired with the songs?
For the most part, artists were paired based on who we felt like — out of the musical community and our circle of friends/peers — would do the best job with the songs and portraying each artist, many of whom are also greatly influenced by their corresponding artist. Eric, however, who is very talented, was chosen for pure comic relief.

There’s also some great semi-local tie-ins to The Band, right?
The group was very fond of and influenced by Louisiana culture, having spent a lot of time in the area, hence the many references and musical flavorings in many of their songs. Levon Helm actually lived in Houma for some time while working on offshore oil rigs, having quit The Band due to incessant booing while touring with Bob Dylan in the 1960s. Then there’s the Bobby Charles connection: the Abbeville native spent a lot of time with the group in Woodstock and even recorded his self-titled masterpiece with the group backing him. While Charles was left on the cutting room floor for the film — he performed alongside Dr. John at the concert — he’ll receive proper tribute from the Lafayette community. Then, there’s their good friend Dr. John whom they also did some recording and gallivanting with in New Orleans. The horn parts for The Last Waltz were arranged by none other than the late Allen Toussaint. I could go on but those are just a few fun little facts.

Why do you think The Band has had such a lasting impact?
To me, they’re the greatest North American rock band ever. Those that rivaled them in talent and creativity, namely The Beatles and The Kinks, were from Great Britain. While they are mostly Canadian, they managed to tap into that great American well of music that transcends the boundaries of time.