This Thanksgiving Day marked the 40th anniversary of a concert called “The Last Waltz”, a musical feast that was the farewell concert of the rock group named “the Band,” and the name of a documentary film directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese in 1978. Besides the Band, the four-and-a-half hour show included two entertainers the Band backed before launching their career—Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan—as well as many other luminaries from the music world. The concert took place at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, where the Band had its first concert as a group. Two Nashville photographers, Nancy Lee Andrews and Steve Gladstone, captured images of the day.
Nancy Lee Andrews: Backstage at The Last Waltz
Nancy Lee Andrews, a former Ford Agency model, shared a life with Ringo Starr for several years, including a four-year engagement. The Band’s Rick Danko and drummer Levon Helm played in Ringo’s first touring All Starr Band, which played such Band hits as “The Weight”.
SEN: In your book, A Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll, you devote a chapter to “The Last Waltz,” in which you say, “‘The Last Waltz’ was a rock ‘n’ roll version of a high school reunion. It was a gathering of old friends to toast and send off the Band…” Looking back, 40 years hence, why do you think this concert and the subsequent documentary film have been important?
Andrews: I think it brought together so many giants that were making music at that time to pay tribute to the roots of the Band and their mentor Bob Dylan. It was so cool of Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese to pull it off the way they did.
To capture the moments of the event, you chose to use a Polaroid camera instead of what you would typically use on a shoot. Tell us more about that.
I used a Polaroid camera because no cameras were allowed into the backstage inner sanctum area. I had a big purse hanging from my shoulder with packs of film and my SX70. I guess they thought I was just having fun and not a serious photographer so I got a pass and everyone loved it. Half of the Polaroids I shot I gave away but most I kept and they are in my book.
What are some of your memorable moments from backstage and from the concert?
Promoter Bill Graham did everything in grand style. An audience of 5,000 people was served turkey dinners, followed by ballroom dancing provided by Berkeley Promenade Orchestra. I was lucky to catch Bob Dylan laughing. The photo is memorable because I had never before seen Bob so much as crack a smile. I remember it being so relaxed and friendly and Governor Jerry Brown was dancing with me in the wings off stage. We were all young and music was the magic of freedom and creative expression, connecting.
It was a night to remember forever. The women were all beautiful and playful. The music was epic with the best players of the day and they were having the time of their lives on that stage. The energy and love was powerful that night. From the time we boarded the private jet in Los Angeles, with mostly all of the world’s greatest musicians, to landing in San Francisco, to about 3:00 a.m. after the concert. It was incredible.
A stage view: Steve Gladstone
The late Steve Gladstone, who was living not far from San Francisco at the time of The Last Waltz concert and later moved to Nashville, took pictures from the concert-goers side of the show.
“He had a studio in Santa Cruz; there’s not a band around that he didn’t shoot from 1973 to 1988,” said Nashville humorist Rachel Gladstone, Steve’s sister. “To shoot ‘The Last Waltz’, he only used two rolls of color film and one roll of black-and-white film to shoot the entire four or five hours. That was why he was so talented–because he had such a great eye and instinct to know exactly when to shoot.”
Gladstone also took many photos of Neil Young over the years, in addition to Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and many other artists who played with the Band at Winterland for the November 25, 1976, Last Waltz concert.
“Testimony” from Robbie Robertson, producer of “The Last Waltz”
On December 13, Robbie Robertson, lead guitarist and principle songwriter for the Band, will be at Vanderbilt’s Ingram Hall to discuss his memoir, “Testimony,” which includes detailed accounts of his time with the Band and account of The Last Waltz, on the 40th anniversary of the show. The prolific raconteur has woven a narrative rich in the surrealism of his Native American roots. Online tickets to the Salon@615 event, which include a signed copy of the book, are available at Nashville Public Library, and see Robertson’s Facebook page for details and reviews.
Screened at the Belcourt Theater on November 20, “The Last Waltz” will also broadcast on WNPT in early to mid-December. Contact Nancy Lee Andrews for information or to order copies of her book “A Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll” at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view all Steve Gladstone’s photos from The Last Waltz, along with photos of other notable musicians, visit his official site.