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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: September 24, 2018

‘The Last Waltz’ returns with Maine musicians as ’70s rockers

Written by: Ray Routhier

Bob Colwell and Josh Robbins, seen here performing as Garth Hudson and Neil Diamond, are part of a group of musicians performing songs from “The Last Waltz” Saturday at Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath.
Photos courtesy of Chocolate Church Arts Center

Bob Colwell was about 18 when he went to the movies to see “The Last Waltz,” a landmark concert film that was a veritable who’s who of 1970s rock stars. It was organized as a concert by The Band, but featured a dozen or so guest appearances by the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell.

In an age when concerts weren’t live-streamed into people’s homes, seeing a film of a concert this big was something that impressed Colwell, a budding Maine musician. And it stayed with him.

About 10 years ago, when he and some other Maine musician friends were talking about how they had no gigs around Thanksgiving, one of them joked, “We should do the The Last Waltz,” because the original concert was on Thanksgiving. So they did, and they’ve been doing it every year since. The next performance, featuring Colwell and about nine or 10 fellow musicians, will be Saturday at Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath.

“These are songs that are in our DNA,” said Colwell, 59, a keyboard player from Hallowell. “We should maybe call it the penultimate waltz, because we keep doing them.”

The show features all the songs in the 1978 Martin Scorsese concert film and lasts about two hours. The concert was held in San Francisco in 1976.

The musicians take turns with the songs, with some getting to sing songs made famous by The Band, like “Up On Cripple Creek” or “The Shape I’m In,” while others get to sing songs by the famous guests.

Colwell sings “Caravan” by Van Morrison, while his brother Pat takes a turn doing “Mannish Boy” by Muddy Waters. Katie Daggett gets to sing “Coyote” by Mitchell.

A group of Maine musicians will perform songs from the film “The Last Waltz” Saturday at Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath.
Photo courtesy of Chocolate Church Arts Center

Colwell and the other Maine musicians sometimes do the “The Last Waltz” several times a year and will be doing more shows this year around Thanksgiving, Colwell said, including ones at the Portland House of Music and at Johnson Hall in Gardiner.

Some of the other songs in the film, and in the live show, include: “It Makes No Difference,” “Ophelia” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band; “Helpless” by Young; “Further on Up The Road” by Clapton; and “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” and “Forever Young” by Dylan.

Katie Daggett will perform Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote.”

Most of the performers in “The Last Waltz” are in other bands and do other music. Colwell, for instance, has been in the popular Maine rock band The Boneheads, for some 30 years. Three of the “Last Waltz” performers perform regularly as The Maine Dead Project, doing songs from “The Grateful Dead and beyond.”

Colwell said that “The Last Waltz” performance isn’t a carbon copy of the original, with costumes and all. But he said some performers will wear some of the types of hats and other trappings seen during the film. And they’ll sing in character as much as they can.

“It’s not without affectation,” Colwell said of the show. “There’s a little bit of theater to it, but it’s more about a reverence for these songs. To me, it’s sort of the swan song of that period in music.”

The Last Waltz

The songs featured in the 1978 Martin Scorsese concert film “The Last Waltz,” performed by Maine musicians. The film captured a concert by The Band, with guest performances by more than a dozen artists, including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young,

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Chocolate Church Arts Center, 804 Washington St., Bath
HOW MUCH: $15 in advance, $17 at the door.

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