Salida musicians re-create legendary concert

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1976  A who’s who of musicians performed an incomparable farewell concert, honoring a rock group that has earned the right to be called simply “The Band.” The Band’s influence was evidenced by the who’s who of musicians that guest starred in the show, documented in the film The Last Waltz, directed by Martin Scorsese. Forty-one Thanksgivings later, The Band and the film continue to inspire, as local musicians will demonstrate at 7 p.m. today at the Salida SteamPlant when they present Salida’s First Last Waltz.

Ever since arriving in the Ark Valley 20 years ago, local drummer George Mossman has entertained the idea of a Thanksgiving concert to honor the legendary performance. But in Mossman’s recollection, even 10 years ago there weren’t enough musicians in Salida to pull off such a feat. Now, “you can look almost every night in Salida and see music from almost every genre,” he said.

“If you’ve ever been to Mossman’s house at Thanksgiving, he’s got the film playing on a continuous loop,” said project collaborator Trevor “Bones” Davis. “We all kind of walk past these amazing musical moments as we are eating and then sit down together and watch the whole thing from start to finish after dinner.”

Likely in one of these turkey-coma moments is when Mossman and local guitarist Chris Nasca started scheming to do the show in Salida. “Always, the talk was about next year,” said Davis. But this year the subject came up early, and recognizing the opportunity, he convinced Mossman they could make it happen as long as they could pull a “core band” together. They called Nasca, Ernie Hatfield and Stu Pappenfort, all of whom agreed to the idea on the spot.

“I didn’t want to leave anyone out,” said Mossman, so making the list of musicians proved particularly challenging. There were folks they had been talking about casting for years – Hatfield as Dr. John and Pappenfort as Eric Clapton because of his Slowhand style of guitar play, which earned him the nickname Smooth Operator. Bruce Hayes was envisioned as Van Morrison; however, when they started moving down a list of more than 30 musicians, almost none said “No,” forcing the organizers to make tough decisions  decisions Mossman lost sleep over.

The daunting tasks of organizing, arranging and staging the show slipped into place “like magic” when the crew got together. Talented friends and family stepped in to help with production; sponsors came quickly. The artists made their homes and garages available, and Nasca picked a set of music appropriate for the talents they had enlisted. As the cast grew, they moved into Bones’ basement rehearsal space, and he pulled out couches and more equipment as people began showing up early and staying late. “The vibe was so great,” said Davis. “This community has embraced George’s vision and gotten behind it because they really wanted to.”

Everyone stepped forward with their own arrangement ideas, and egos were kept in check, making the production easier than anticipated. Mossman called it a really powerful experience as people who had never played together teamed up and made this classic music their own. What is represented is truly a Salida product. “I could really imagine that train all those musicians (in the film) took across Canada, and they just wanted to hang out and play,” said Bones.

“I really hope this is the start of a yearly tradition,” said Mossman.

The show is sold out, but the musicians agree that this is only the beginning of something special in Salida.