There was something about 2016 that kinda sorta sucked. We lost a lot of great musicians and saw our communities divided over protests during an unforgettable election season. Through all of this chaos the one thing that helped us power through was music, especially seeing it live.
My favorite concert from 2016 took place in Kalamazoo, Michigan at the State Theatre. It was the second night of Greensky Bluegrass’ hometown run over Thanksgiving weekend where everything melted away and I truly felt lost in the music. Maybe it was because they warmed up the crowd the night before with a show flushed with fan favorites and throwbacks, or perhaps the fact that their two night run was the band’s first time home after the release of Shouted, Written Down & Quoted. Regardless, the weekend culminated with one of the best sets of music I saw all year.
In a career defining moment, Greensky paid tribute to The Last Waltz: the final concert put on by the Band that took place forty years earlier on Thanksgiving Day. The epic night of music was documented by Martin Scorsese and the result was one of the best concert films to ever be released. The show signaled the end of an era for live music and contained a slew of notable guest appearances from Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan to Neil Young and Dr. John, just to name a few.
In the film the Band’s Robbie Robertson explained, “We wanted it to be more than just a concert, we wanted it to be a celebration.”
Well, Greensky’s translation of that aesthetic couldn’t have been more on point. The best part was, no one in the audience could see this coming.
I suppose they were giving us a hint when the second set ended early in the evening after a cover of the Band’s “The Shape I’m In.” Greensky quickly exited the stage with a promise they’d soon be back. Two drum sets were then set up during the set break leaving most of us intrigued, especially since Greensky is an all-strings bluegrass band.
Eventually the boys came back along with opening act: the Joshua Davis quartet, as well as the incredible vocalist Rachael Davis and singer/guitarist Dominic Davis. The full stage quickly jumped back into a tribute to The Last Waltz by taking on some of the Band’s greatest hits like “Up On Cripple Creek” and “Down South in New Orleans,” as well as a cover of “Helpless” by Neil Young and Marvin Gaye’s “Don’t Do It”. By the end of the set Paul Hoffman was dancing like his feet had caught on fire while guitarist Dave Bruzza held down one of the drum kits. The night finally encored with “The Weight” which included a special vocal performance by the one and only Anders Beck that brought the crowd to a roaring cheer of approval.
Check out a crisp recording of the show over at Archive.org:
I can’t stop thinking about this show and the music still haunts me as winter continues to infect the Midwest with its rigid cold. The energy and passion that oozed from the stage was enough to infect everyone in the room, including the Greek statues that lined the venue’s rafters.
The Last Waltz marked the end of a 16 year career of touring for the Band. Ironically, Greensky Bluegrass seemed to be celebrating 16 years of meticulously building a force to be reckoned with in the world of live music. For a long time fan like myself, the word “thankful” would be an understatement. Even amidst all the chaos of 2016, that weekend in Kalamazoo was a celebration through and through.