There’s no Thanksgiving music. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But still, there’s very little Thanksgiving music. Certainly nothing compared to Christmas. New Year’s Eve, at least, has “Auld Lang Syne,” and the Fourth of July has “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” Easter has “Easter Parade.” But what does Thanksgiving have?
Well, it has “The Last Waltz.” Sort of.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1976, the rock group, The Band, gave its farewell concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, with a stunning lineup of guests: Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond, Ringo Starr, Dr. John, Paul Butterfield and more. It was released, with added studio tracks, as a three-CD album in 1978, along with a Martin Scorsese-directed concert film that is routinely listed as one of the greatest concert films ever.
Concert-goers were offered a Thanksgiving turkey dinner before the show started. But even without knowing this, the film is perfect for a holiday that’s about family and giving thanks. The Band always gave off a warm family vibe, with three different members sharing lead vocal duties, no one showing off, and everyone making vital contributions. (Of course, we now know that there were rifts and resentments, too, but that’s another story). The “Last Waltz” guests were appearing as a way of thanking The Band for their music and friendship. And certainly, the audience had a lot to be thankful for.
The Band’s music, moreover, is autumnal in nature — these aren’t sunny pop tunes, but more mature, reflective songs, and some of the most timeless rock music ever. Thanksgiving is an earthy holiday, and The Band made earthy music. (If you have any doubt of this, listen to the marvelous new boxed set, “The Basement Tapes Complete,” an exhaustive look at the music they made with Dylan, literally and figuratively underground, in 1967.)
It’s nice to see two major Band tribute shows on the New Jersey concert schedule for the weekend before Thanksgiving, and one hopes that Band tributes, around Thanksgiving time, will become an annual tradition.
Friday at 7:30 p.m., an all-star group of New Jersey musicians will present “One Last Waltz: A Celebration of the Music & Legacy of The Band,” at the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. Glen Burtnik, Salvatore Boyd, Bob Burger and Arne Wendt will perform as The Band, and will be joined by an assortment of guests, including Southside Johnny, Pat Guadagno, Bobby Banderia, Kate Taylor, Bruce Gassman, Frank “Puggy” DeRosa, Matt Wade, Stringbean Sorenson, Frank Lombardi, Anthony D’Amato, Emily Grove, Nick Foster, Tommy LaBella and Taylor Hope. Tickets are $22 to $45; visit monmouth.edu.
(There will also be an open-to-the-public rehearsal for this show, tonight at The Watermark in Asbury Park, with doors opening at 7. No cover with ticket or proof of purchase for Friday’s show; for others, admission is $12, or $10 with donation of a non-perishable food item to be given to the FoodBank of Monmouth & Ocean Counties.)
And Friday at 8 p.m., a group called The Weight will present a show titled “Celebrating the Music of Levon Helm and The Band” at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. It’s hard to imagine a better credentialed band for a show such as this: The Weight is made up of Jim Weider and Randy Ciarlante, who both played in The Band after it resumed performing in the mid-’80s without guitarist Robbie Robertson; Brian Mitchell and Byron Isaacs, who both played in the late Band drummer Levon Helm’s band; and Marty Grebb, who has worked with late Band members Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. Tickets are $27 to $38; visit sopacnow.org.
NOTE: After I published this post, Jim Testa alerted me to yet another Band-related show, Thursday at Northern Soul in Hoboken. To read Jim’s article on it, click here.