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Critics' Choice
AMERICANA ASSOCIATION CELEBRATES THE BAND IN LAST WALTZ CONCERT
8/8/16

Bob Weir channeled Eric Clapton, Anderson East dug his heels into Van Morrison and Patty Griffin pushed Neil Young’s “Helpless” into the clouds as Jed Hilly’s Americana Music Association delivered a vibrant and engaging 40th anniversary celebration of The Last Waltz.

As much as The Band’s final concert, held Thanksgiving weekend in 1976 in San Francisco, was an equal celebration of repertoire and famous guests, Saturday’s event at the three-week Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival was decidedly a look at The Band and the great music they recorded for Capitol between 1969 and 1976.

With guests Buddy Miller, Teddy Thompson and Lucinda Williams,  a house band led by guitarist Larry Campbell tore expertly through some of The Band’s best-known material—“Up on Cripple Creek,” “Opehilia” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”— and gems from the catalog tend to get overlooked—“Long Black Veil,” “It Makes No Difference,” “Chest Fever,” “Life is a Carnival,” the list goes on.

Dr. John, the one performer who was at The Last Waltz, reprised his “Such a Night.”

Weir, who started the week with an announcement of him signing with Sony Legacy to release his first solo album in ages, was in particularly strong voice on the Bobby “Blue” Bland classic “Further on Up the Road,” which Clapton covered at The Last Waltz.  East would win a medal for most intense performance in his tackling of “Caravan.” The night closed with rousing group sing-alongs on Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” and “The Weight.”

Guitarist Campbell, the former Dylan associate who headed up the late Levon Helm’s bands in later years, was masterfully assisted by the singer Teresa Williams and lead guitarist Jim Weider, a member of the late ‘80s edition of The Band. (Howard Johnson, the tuba player long associated with The Band, was part of a powerful horn section).

Americana’s musical definition is often fluid and debatable. The term didn’t exist when the four Canadians and one Arkansan of The Band created eye-opening music from the woods of upstate New York. They lyrically created a throughline from the Bible to the Civil War to modern times  and drew musical inspiration from Mississippi, Appalachia, Acadia and anywhere communities gathered with strings and horns and sang songs about life. Forty years after their festive break-up, The Band’s music is as great a definition of Americana as there is.