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A new Thanksgiving tradition: The Last Waltz New Orleans

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Any music fan will tell you one of their favorite Thanksgiving traditions is gathering around the TV in a tryptophan-induced haze to bask in the glory of The Last Waltz.  The Band’s farewell concert has something for everyone: timeless songs, half-baked interviews, a rotating cast of musical legends, and Martin Scorsese’s knack for turning the grimy into the sublime.  To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of The Last Waltz, a slew of tribute shows popped up across the country to bring the music to life.

With no shortage of roots-rock royalty, New Orleans was an obvious choice to host a tribute to The Band this year.  The Last Waltz New Orleans was held at The Joy Theater last Friday (the 40th anniversary to the day of the original concert) and featured more than two dozen of the city's best players coming together to benefit the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic.

Just like the original concert, the New Orleans edition of The Last Waltz featured a seemingly never-ending cast of incredible musicians.  The house band, consisting of members of New Orleans Suspects and Bonerama, held down most of the songs with the confidence and muscle that can only be gained from decades on the road.  An impressive guest list featured members of The Radiators and Galactic, along with solo stars who did their best to honor rock gods like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Van Morrison.

The first standout performance of the night belonged to Dave Jordan, the local singer-songwriter who has been building momentum over the past few years with his band, The Neighborhood Association.  Jordan’s spot-on cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless” managed to channel Young's spirit with some extra Southern swagger that sounded right at home.  Throw in a dusty cowboy hat and some sideburns and he even looked like a young Neil in the right light.

Billy Iuso, known locally as a guitar slinger who often dabbles in the catalog of the Grateful Dead, delivered an impressive reading of Dylan’s “Forever Young” that the Nobel Laureate would have been proud to hear.  Iuso was joined by singer Darcy Malone (who almost stole the show every time she graced the stage) for heartbreaking harmonies that were matched by the singing crowd.

For me, the hands-down highlight of The Last Waltz is Van Morrison’s soulfully unhinged performance of “Caravan.” Showing up hopelessly drunk to rehearsal and then winging one of the best musical performances ever captured on tape, Morrison set the bar high for any mortal foolish enough to try their hand at the song.  When the time finally came, Bonerama's Mark Mullins proved himself up for the challenge as he stepped out from behind his trombone to shake the roof, shouting “Turn it up!” and leading the crowd through an impassioned singalong.

Just like the movie, the show ended with an emotional performance of "I Shall Be Released" featuring the entire cast of musicians crowding the stage, trading verses and guitars, for what felt like a true family affair.  Here's to the beginning of a new Thanksgiving tradition in New Orleans.

Shane Colman writes about music for NolaVie. Email him at shane@nolavie.com. Follow him on Twitter @canesholman and on Instagram at shawncoolman.