The Band’s Last Waltz is made new again

TLA_Troc_CB with David U_03-1
In 2013, a local iteration of The Last Waltz took place in Philadelphia.
Howard Pitkow

When the Philadelphia Tribute to The Last Waltz—a benefit for Make the World Better Foundation (MTWB)—plays out on Nov. 26 at Franklin Music Hall, there is a ton of history to go with this monumental, charitable occasion.

The Last Waltz was, most famously, director Martin Scorsese’s iconic documentary on The Band’s 1976 farewell concert in San Francisco, a show that saw the great avatars of Americana closing out its tenure with musical friends such as Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, and Neil Young along for the goodbye ride.

In 2013, Philadelphia live music booker and promoter Bryan Dilworth became the driving force behind a local iteration of The Last Waltz, a staged affair featuring musical luminaries from the area who rocked with equal passion and precision to that of The Band.

Now, Philly saloon owner and benefactor Fergus “Fergie” Carey, who – in memory of Dilworth, who passed away suddenly in March 2020 – decided to re-produce the excitement of both the events and re-stage The Last Waltz for 2022. With Carey comes co-producers Joey Sweeney, Andrew Lipke (the event’s musical director), Kristin Thomson and Philadelphia Eagles’ Connor Barwin, co-founder of MTWB.

On-stage for the 2022 Last Waltz will be nearly 40 of Philly’s finest musicians and vocalists, paying tribute to their friend and Franklin Hall promoter, Dilworth.

“The first Last Waltz Philly in 2013 at the Troc was special, something Bryan was always hesitant to do it again since it was so unique,” wrote Carey. “But we’re breaking the rules and doing it anyway.”

Ask Lipke about remaining true to The Band’s original dictate and what goal he’s forged for the Last Waltz players, and he says it is the spirit of that 1976 performance that sets the pace.

“That means making sure signature riffs, and special specific moments, like the sax entrance in “Makes No Difference” or the piano cadenza at the end of “Such A Night,” are as close to what happens in Scorsese’s film. Otherwise, I think the energy of the performance is the main thing we’re going for…that wonderfully “loose, but tight” sound that is The Band.”

As for choosing the right vocalists, Lipke points out how asking Philly’s biggest personalities such as Casey Parker (as Van Morrison) and Maxx Williams (as Muddy Waters) and having three Neil Diamonds is “key” to the show’s success.

Ultimately, though, Philly’s 2022 Last Waltz focuses on paying tribute to this city’s live music scene’s best friend, Dilworth.

“Not only was music Bryan’s profession as a concert promoter in Philly, but part of his identity and, honestly, the thread that connected him to hundreds and hundreds of people in Philly and beyond, many of whom were lifelong friends,” says Kristin Thomson, herself a longtime music industry professional. “Bryan and I were married for 24 years, and a couple for 27, so I had been to a lot of shows where he was playing — or I was playing — tour manager to the band onstage, or was the promoter. This means I saw more than my fair share of amazing shows over the years. But when Bryan, Fergie and Andrew Lipke did that version of the Last Waltz in 2013 – including Garth Hudson from The Band’s surprise appearance – it was a night that had its own magic.”

Thomson recalls how she, Carey and others enthusiastically encouraged Dilworth to make the Philly Last Waltz an annual event, but Bryan was set against that, certain that its razzle-dazzle could not be replicated.

“Our joint effort to stage this Philadelphia Tribute to the Last Waltz on Nov.26 is a fitting testament to Bryan’s legacy,” says Thomson. “Bryan loved the Last Waltz movie, and the bands that played it, was the main promoter at Franklin Music Hall  — the venue for our show, and was on the board of Make the World Better Foundation, supporting their mission through fundraising efforts. Finally, most importantly, he loved Philly. He loved its musicians and sports teams. He would have been losing his mind about the Phillies and Eagles wins this year… I am so humbled by the number of people who eagerly and selflessly joined us in this project to raise money for MTWB and honor Bryan’s legacy. It’s going to be an amazing night.”

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