On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 1976, a concert unlike any other took place at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.
On that date, The Band, which had gained prominence in the 1960s as Bob Dylan’s back-up group before going on to achieve super-stardom with hits such as "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "The Weight," performed what was supposed to be their farewell concert.
As it turns out, it wasn’t. While it was the last appearance of the classic lineup, many members continued to tour as The Band, tours which included a stop at the Rainforest Preserve on Genesee Street in Utica.
The Winterland concert featured a full turkey dinner for all attendees and an all-star line-up which included, among others, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Emmylou Harris and The Staple Singers.
But what it is most remembered for is the movie that many consider the greatest rock concert film of all time, “The Last Waltz,” directed by Martin Scorcese.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, Unity Hall will present a live tribute to "The Last Waltz" on the 40th anniversary of the film’s release.
“I wish I could take credit for the idea of reviving the Last Waltz format, with a core rhythm section of local players filling out the role of The Band and a bunch of special invited musical guests performing concert selections,” says Matt Mielnick, Unity Hall’s Music Coordinator. “I remember hearing about one such event about four years ago and thought if I ever get in the position to stage something like this I will.”
While Clapton, Dylan and Van the Man are unavailable, the Unity Hall show will feature 12 prominent upstate musicians from some of the area’s best-loved bands joining Mielnick on stage, including, George Deveny on guitar, Joe Perry on keyboards, John Handzel on bass, Lenny Milano on drums, Mark Sisti on guitar, vocals, and accordion, Tom Townsley on the blues harmonica, and guest vocalists Maynard Wallace, Ed Townsend and Jay Schnitt. They will be joined by vocalist Danielle Ponder and mandolin/fiddle player Perry Cleaveland, both prominent musicians from the Rochester area.
The group, in various configurations, will perform selections from the concert footage.
Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for Unity Hall members. Tickets can be purchased online at unityhall.com or at The Adirondack Cheese Company on state Route 12 in Mapledale/ Barneveld.
Incidentally, in much the same way that this was not The Band’s final concert, the Dec. 8 show may not be the last of the album tribute shows at Unity Hall, with 2019 being (as Mielnick subtly points out) the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and The Beatles’ Abbey Road album.
Mark Sisti is an experienced performer that writes about local music for the Observer-Dispatch. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.