By MARK WEBER
The Front Porch Roots Revue heads to Red Deer April 8th for a show featuring classic tunes from the songbook of The Band.
The show, entitled ‘Up On Cripple Creek’, begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Elks Lodge and marks something of a key milestone as it’s been 40 years this fall since The Band’s legendary Last Waltz concert.
“It was a pretty big undertaking when it came to tackling this songbook, but we all love this music,” said bassist/singer Ron Rault – a cornerstone member of the Revue. “Pete (Peter North, Front Porch producer) and I had been talking about it for a long time because we so much loved the music of The Band – it had never really gone out of our thoughts,” he said. “They were such an influence on all of us – and everybody in our group.” So Rault and North sat down with a bunch of The Band’s records and between the two of them, they pared down the list to about 25 tunes.
According to Wikipedia, The Band was a Canadian roots rock group originally consisting of Rick Danko (bass guitar, double bass, fiddle, vocals), Levon Helm (drums, mandolin, guitar, vocals), Garth Hudson (keyboards, saxophones, trumpet), Richard Manuel (piano, drums, vocals) and Robbie Robertson (guitar, percussion, vocals).
Because they were always ‘the band’ to various frontmen, the name ‘The Band’ worked well when the group came into its own. They went on to release 10 studio albums.
For capturing the sounds of the legendary group, it took plenty of careful planning and consideration.
“We were also thinking about who could play these tunes with us,” said Rault. “We needed to have people who were well enough versed in this music and who were capable of playing this music. It wasn’t just three chord blues, but there’s some fairly intricate stuff in there, some very detailed stuff.”
It also wasn’t just about finding the best players for the tunes, but the right ‘mix’ of players as well.
“We took some time, and by 2012, we started it at the Ironwood in Calgary.” The response was terrific and the guys were delighted with how things ultimately had come together.
“We’ve got four strong singers, Calgary’s J.R. Shore, plus Doug Andrew from Vancouver’s Circus In Flames. They join ‘Crawdad’ Cantera and myself on the vocal end of this project. Rounding out the troupe is longtime Ian Tyson drummer Thom Moon and we’re thrilled to have the great Gord Matthews on guitar. Gord has proven that with his years recording and touring with k.d lang and Ian Tyson,” said Rault. “It surprised all of us – we knew it was going to be good, we just didn’t know it was going to be that good,” he said. “We also thought it was just going to be a one-off kind of thing.
“We thought we’ll do this, it will be fun, we’ll have a few laughs, we’ll be able to hang out for a week or so. Then all of a sudden, everyone wanted the show!
“We had wondered how many people out there even remembered or cared about this music.” Apparently, many did – many sold-out concerts and festival performances were to follow over the next couple of years.
And it wasn’t just the older, original fans coming to the shows – plenty of young people have been tuning in as well.
“The themes of the music are timeless,” said Rault. “They would talk about things that mattered. It wasn’t just, ‘I love you/you left me/ I hate you’ – it was more about some of the deeper things in our hearts and minds. It touched our souls.”
Meanwhile, for the current string of shows, the troupe is expanded with the addition of Colleen Brown singing the songs Joni Mitchell sang at the Last Waltz, while Ian Oscar of Alberta country-rock band One Horse Blues will be handling the Neil Young tunes from the Last Waltz as well as some Bob Dylan material.
Rounding out the ensemble is Calgary’s Kirby Sewell who will be singing the Van Morrison tunes heard at the Last Waltz.
For Rault, it’s a very meaningful show. “Once I met Richard Manuel’s brother, and he had tears in his eyes. He said, ‘Thank you for playing this music, and doing it this way’.
“Those songs are etched into our DNA.”
As to the guys who started it all, the original configuration of The Band ended its touring career in 1976 with a live ballroom performance featuring many musical celebrities. This performance was immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s 1978 documentary The Last Waltz.
The group was eventually inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. In 2008 they received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
As mentioned, ‘The Last Waltz’ was advertised as The Band’s ‘farewell concert appearance’, and the concert saw The Band joined by more than a dozen guests, including Bob Dylan, Paul Butterfield, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, Neil Diamond, Bobby Charles, The Staples and Eric Clapton.
For ticket information, check out www.blackknightinn.ca or call 403-755-6626.