November 25, 1976 ~ Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, The Staple Singers, Ronnie Hawkins, and Dr. John join The Band for The Last Waltz, a farewell concert for the ages.
It’s at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom, the site of their very first performance together as The Band, way back in 1969. Martin Scorsese, Band friend and fan, agrees to film the event. Production designer Boris Leven acquires the set of Verdi’s La Traviata from the San Francisco Opera and has it set up as the stage backdrop. Robertson gets his ’59 Stratocaster guitar dipped in bronze, “like baby shoes,” for the occasion.
Before the show, Thanksgiving dinner is served to the 5,000 attendees, a feat requiring 6,000 pounds of turkey and 400 pounds of pumpkin pie. Once the show begins, the Band shares the stage with some of the biggest acts of the era. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell sing “Helpless” together. Van Morrison rips through “Caravan.” Eric Clapton hits “Further Up the Road.” Bob Dylan leads a mass jam of “I Shall Be Released,” which is intended to be the final song. When the crowd refuses to let it end, the musicians head out and finish things off with “Don’t Do It.”
The show goes down as a high-water mark of both rock concerts and rock documentaries after Scorsese’s The Last Waltz is released on April 26, 1978.
In 1989, The Band is inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Five years later, they gain entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.