Warren Haynes was still a teenager in Asheville, North Carolina when he first heard The Band's three LP set, the live album documenting their farewell concert. The Last Waltz featured a star-studded lineup of guest musicians, people with whom The Band had worked over the course of their time together. The Last Waltz made an enduring impression on Haynes; now, on the 40th anniversary of that San Francisco concert, the Gov't Mule guitarist has put together an all-star group of his own, paying tribute to The Last Waltz and playing the music for modern-day audiences.
Haynes was impressed not only by the music of that 1976 concert, but by the people involved in the show. “There was such an amazing array of artists,” he says, noting that the concert's cast of characters reflected the special and unique nature of the event. And The Last Waltz 40 tour – something that grew out of a single concert last fall in New Orleans – “was based on a similar diversity,” Haynes says.
“Myself and Michael McDonald and Jamey Johnson are three completely different types of singers,” Haynes says. That allows The Last Waltz 40 group to cover the wide range of styles that was a hallmark of the original show. Haynes describes the approach as “taking music from all different directions, and mixing it together in a way that just sounds natural.”
The original Last Waltz brought friends and associates of The Band together onstage; the lineup included Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Ronnie Hawkins, Ringo Starr, Neil Young, Van Morrison, The Staple Singers and many others, creating a once-in-a-lifetime who's who of that era's popular music. Such musical gatherings are less common in today's more segmented musical landscape, but the Last Waltz 40 tour aims to recreate that communal spirit.
Haynes says that he and his band mates in the project – McDonald, Johnson, John Medeski, Don Was, Terence Higgins, Bob Margolin, Dave Malone, Ivan Neville and Mark Mullins – all agreed.
“Yes, let's just see what happens and not put any sort of demands or parameters on the music other than it should reflect and represent The Last Waltz.,” he said.
Since the pair of sold-out shows at the 2016 New Orleans Jazz Fest that spawned the tour featured the horn charts of Allen Toussaint (the horns arranger for the original Last Waltz), Haynes and his friends decided to approach the tour as a tribute to Toussaint, who died in 2015, as well.
“That puts a nice New Orleans spin on it,” Haynes says.
At present, The Last Waltz 40 tour itinerary is limited to 11 cities; the January 23 show at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall is the second date on the tour. Haynes is circumspect when asked about additional big names joining the ensemble onstage, but he does keep the door open for that possibility. “We'll see how that goes,” he says with a smile.
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