"The Last Waltz" was a concert by the Canadian rock group, the Band, held on American Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. "The Last Waltz" was advertised as the end of the Band's illustrious touring career, and the concert saw the Band joined by more than a dozen special guests, including Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood and Neil Young. The event was filmed by director Martin Scorsese and made into a documentary of the same name, released in 1978. The film features concert performances, scenes shot on a studio soundstage and interviews by Scorsese with members of the Band.
Beginning with a title card saying "This film should be played loud!" the concert documentary is an essay on the Band's influences and their career. The group – Rick Danko (died 1999, December 10) on bass, violin and vocals, Levon Helm on drums, mandolin and vocals, Garth Hudson on keyboards and saxophone, Richard Manuel (died 1986, March 4) on keyboards, percussion and vocals, and guitarist-songwriter Robbie Robertson – started out in the late 1950s as a rock and roll band led by Ronnie Hawkins, and Hawkins himself appears as the first guest. The group backed Bob Dylan in the 1960s, and Dylan performs with the Band towards the end of the concert.
The idea for a farewell concert came about early in 1976 after Richard Manuel was seriously injured in a boating accident. Robbie Robertson then began giving thought to leaving the road, envisioning the Band becoming a studio-only band, similar to the Beatles' decision to stop playing live shows in 1966. Though the other band members did not agree with Robertson's decision, the concert was set at Bill Graham's Winterland Ballroom, where the Band had made its debut as a group in 1969. Originally, the Band was to perform on its own, but then the notion of inviting Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan was hatched and the guest list grew to include other performers.
Promoted and organized by Bill Graham, who had a long association with the Band, the concert was an elaborate affair. Starting at 5:00 p.m., the audience of 5,000 was served turkey dinners. There was ballroom dancing with music by the Berkeley Promenade Orchestra. Poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael McClure gave readings. The concert began with the Band performing its more popular songs an lasted more than 9 hours with all those special guests playing with the group. At around 2:15 a.m. the Band came to perform an encore, "Don't Do It". It was the last time the group performed with its classic lineup.
The original soundtrack album was a three-LP album released on April 16, 1978 (later as a two-disc CD). It has many songs not in the film, including "Down South in New Orleans" with Bobby Charles and Dr. John on guitar, "Tura Lura Lural (That's an Irish Lullaby)" by Van Morrison, "Life is a Carnival" by the Band, and "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)" by Bob Dylan. In 2002, this four-CD box set was released, as was a DVD-Audio edition. Robbie Robertson produced the album, remastering all the songs. The set includes 16 previously unreleased songs from the concert, as well as takes from rehearsals.