This past Friday, November 19th, the Boulder Theater was host to the first of this year’s two performances of The 6th Annual Last Waltz Revisited, which has quickly become a popular yearly tradition for both Denver area musicians and music-lovers. In 2005, Tori Prater and CR Gruver, of local band Polytoxic, had the idea to bring together a bunch of local musicians and recreate The Band’s Last Waltz. The event was so much fun and garnered such a huge interest from fans, that they have been bringing together an impressive cast of local musicians each year since. CR Gruver show has also grown into a significant fund-raising event for the Denver Rescue Mission.
On Sunday, we had the chance to sit down with Tori Pater and CR Gruver and discuss the conception and evolution of this popular Denver music tradition. (Interview by Jim and Melissa Mimna)
MWN: How did the first Last Waltz Revisited come to be? Whose idea was it?
CRG – We were living together on Stuart Street by Sloan’s Lake and across the street was our friend, Ed Kammerer, who owns High Pac (Highland Pacific Restaurant and Oyster Bar). It was right around Christmas time and Ed, for Christmas, gave us a DVD of the Last Waltz. Now, we had just done our first album show as Polytoxic. We had decided to do these albums every month. We did the Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station first. So, Ed brings over The Last Waltz DVD and says, You ought to think about doing this as one of your albums. As we’re watching this Last Waltz DVD, we realized that between Peter Stelling, Aaron Rose, CC (Christie Chambers) and all our musician friends that we had met over the last couple years, we could field a Last Waltz as one of our albums and just bring all of our friends to come sing with us and make it a cool little reenactment of the Last Waltz. It was just meant to be another one of our monthly albums, figuring it would pull a hundred people in and we’d have fun.
TP – And, it was also CR’s birthday. The first one we did was CR’s birthday at Dulcinea’s (May 25, 2005). And it was packed.
CRG – It was shocking.
TP – Also, because the original Last Waltz was on Thanksgiving, we actually had a friend of ours, Mike Carlin, cook a full Thanksgiving dinner for all the artists. Especially then, we didn’t have any money to pay anyone, so it was like we fed them in turkey and mashed potatoes. Then, we realized that we should do it around Thanksgiving because it was too big for smaller rooms.
CRG – We decided it was so successful that let’s just do it at the time it was done originally, so twice that year, but at Cervante’s the second time. We never ever expected that kind of response.
MWN: How many people were involved the first year?
CRG – The first one we probably had ten guest positions, maybe fifteen.
TP – I can tell you this, for the most part, everyone who was at the first one is still with us. A couple of people have passed away, but if they are still alive, they have pretty much been involved in the Last Waltz.
How many people were involved this year?
CRG – Well, we had about 25 guests in Boulder, including the horn section. And, we’re probably going to have about 30 guests in Denver. It’s taken on a life of its own, really. It’s a lot of legwork. We start planning this thing in January and it’s a full year of planning. But, we’re basically setting it up for everyone else to come in and do their part. So, once the show starts, it’s basically Tori and I sitting back and playing a few songs and letting everyone else take the lead and do their thing.
MWN: Why do you think this has been so extremely popular? Do you think it’s because it’s The Band’s Last Waltz or do you think it’s more of a celebration of the Denver music community?
TP – I think you just answered it¦ it’s both, of course.
CRG – I think it starts with The Band’s Last Waltz, because it’s such a timeless thing. And, I didn’t realize this until we did it the first time, how big the following of that particular DVD and The Band was. I had no idea. That’s why we were so shocked at Dulcinea’s that that many people showed up. And, I think over the last 6 years, it’s kind of been a combination of that. People come out the first time to see The Band tunes. But, then when they see the caliber of musicianship, they realize that they are living in this place that has all these great musicians.
TP – We’ve got a deep pool here, for sure. When CR and I would come home from gigs, we probably watched the movie every night for a month and would just sit there and be like, Ok, obviously Peter Stelling is Eric Clapton and Eric Martinez has a good high range, so he can do the Neil Young. Ace Butler is Muddy Waters, no questions asked. We sat there and just cast all our friends and got them into it. I think the answer really is both. This is the one show a year that I’ll brag about. I can brag because the material is not ours and we do work hard, but the day of the shows, we just sit there and watch our friends kick ass onstage.
CRG – And even bigger than that, when I moved to Denver, there was a great music scene, but it was fragmented. All the bands were their own bands and there wasn’t as much of a community. And, I’m not saying that the Last Waltz is responsible for this aspect of community here, but I think it has definitely helped to have all these musicians from different bands come to one show, meet each other, play music with each other, and then the next thing you know they are exchanging phone numbers.
MWN: How did the charity aspect come into it?
CRG – That’s all through our production manager, Gayor Geller, who by the third year, he approached them. He wanted it to benefit the community somehow and, it being Thanksgiving, he wanted it to be something that had to do with feeding the homeless. The main organization here is the Denver Rescue Mission. So, Gayor went out on his own and got them involved. And, at first they thought we were this cute little band that was going to just donate some canned food. And the first year, it was kind of a couple bags of food. But, that has blossomed into now we’re like their feature fall event and they are going to have a big box truck come to the Gothic and fill a box truck with food. Last year, I think we had ten full bins. That was all Gayor Geller’s baby. He’s pretty much the guy that, as far as all that stuff goes, kind of takes the ball and runs with it.
MWN: Do you guys have any aspirations for future years?
CRG – We’re shooting for the Fillmore. Our main goal was the ten year anniversary being the Fillmore. God knows if we’ll get that big by then, but that’s our goal. We just want to make it as big as we can.
TP – We keep laughing¦ We say we’re going to keep doing it until people stop coming. But, then we figure we’ll probably do it a couple more times and then stop. Again, it’s the one show a year that I really brag about. I mean, the material is awesome and it showcases local talent, it showcases our friends, and it’s pretty solid.
MWN: And it’s a pretty solid show, indeed. This is Buck Perigo’s second year opening the show by performing Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, a great addition to the evening and a nice tie-in with the Thanksgiving theme. Sound engineer, Dave Tash, has been making sure the Last Waltz Revisited sounds stellar since the beginning, and the show on Friday was an impressive demonstration of both the quality of The Band’s material and the incredible musicians that make the Front Range such an amazing sounding place. The second performance of The Last Waltz Revisited is on Wednesday, November 24th at the Gothic Theatre in Denver. Whether this is your first time seeing the show or your sixth year, you are guaranteed to be treated to a night of incredible music performed by amazing musicians and leave with a renewed level of sonic satisfaction. So, grab some canned food for a good cause and head down to the Gothic Theatre and treat your ears to quality, local music that is worthy of thankfulness.