Monday, December 18, 2017

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On Saturday night, November 25, at Meaford Hall, The Last Waltz – Meaford Style was a celebration of our musical community unlike anything that has been seen before.

A complete sellout more than a month in advance, the show featured a cavalcade of home-grown talent that was equal to any visiting talent that has graced this great venue, and the audience loved it.

The template for the show was the famous Martin Scorcese film from 1978 that documented the last concert by The Band, with all of the performers who had been part of that celebration represented here by local talents. It was actually the 41st anniversary of the original concert, which took place at Winterland in San Francisco on November 25, 1976. The film set the bar high for a group of local performers who had little more than a month to practise. They rose to the occasion. The band was tight, often indistinguishable from their model, and each performer who contributed tributes to the other performers did a stellar job. The energy from the audience matched that coming from the stage.

A few of the vocalists stood out with their ability to mimic the originals to an uncanny extent. Drew McIvor’s take on Doctor John’s (Mac Rebennack) Such A Night had that New Orleans drawl down cold, and Jaret Koop perfectly captured Rick Danko’s anguished vocals on The Shape I’m In. Fran Bouwman did a great take on Joni Mitchell’s Coyote (and even looked the part), and Tom Thwaits’ version of Neil Diamond’s Dry Your Eyes sounded like the real thing. John Hume reproduced not only the vocal parts but the keyboards (that beautiful Hammond organ sound) with fidelity.

Others added their own special talent to the songs that reflected what they bring to music. Sandra Swannell’s violin solos on Acadian Driftwood and the encore I Shall Be Released, and Emma Wright’s vocals on Evangeline were spine-tingling standouts. Chris Scerri’s vocals, of course, are 100 percent his - he’s a belter, and his style made new versions of the songs he covered.

All of the performances were so dynamic and compelling that the sets seemed far too short, despite being almost an hour in length. But what added immeasurably to the experience was the great sense of community.

It was very fitting that Patrick Delaney sat in on drums for one song. He has inspired so many musicians through his music course at the high school, with a third of the student body enrolled in music. Over $1,000 of proceeds from the concert went to support the school’s music program, and students were on hand in The Gallery selling fudge to help pay for this year’s music trip for students.

Other performers included a wide spectrum of talents. Jayden Grahlman and Jon Zaslow shared guitar duties impressively. Beaker Granger rode the drumkit except when he came out front to clone Ronnie Hawkins doing Bo Diddley. Jaret Koop looked after the bass, except when Johnny Roy sat in for a song. Drew McIvor played electric and grand piano, and John Hume was responsible not only for the Hammond and various vocals but also acted as musical director. All of them joined in on harmony vocals. Terry Young played mandolin on Acadian Driftwood and dueted with Emma Wright on the vocals for Evangeline. Rich Fletcher took a turn with the Eric Clapton number Further on Up the Road, and Martin Rice did a stirring version of Neil Young’s Helpless, aided by Diana Young on vocal harmonies.

These are the people that I’ve been writing about on Meaford Live Music, and it was no surprise to me that they were up to the challenge of reproducing an iconic concert. What is even more impressive, though, is that they represent about 60 percent of the full range of talent that exists in our area. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if many of our local talents move on to the national and international stages in the coming years, as some already have.

I was particularly pleased that I had a chance to contribute a small part to the show. Having set myself up as the official scribe of the local music scene, it was fitting that my role in the concert was to fill in for Lawrence Ferlinghetti, with a little spoken word piece. Rather than recite his work, I created my own little bit for the occasion. Called The Song, it was about how music can inhabit your soul and spread like a spirit on the wind to inspire others.

I spent most of the concert in the audience where I could enjoy the full effect, but during intermission I went backstage to await my cue to go on. It was exciting there to be in the presence of these great talents. The writer, whose job it is to look on while others perform, is by definition set apart, and standing there backstage I felt like I was part of the community.

And community was what it was all about. To augment the audience in the Opera House, special arrangements had been made with Orchard TV to stream the show live to selected seniors' homes and women’s shelters, so that those who were unable to be part of it in person could participate via the media.

Community businesses and organizations stepping up to help cover the costs can take a lot of credit for helping to make this concert a possibility. They include the Meaford Hall & Culture Foundation, Meaford IDA Pharmacy, Orchard TV, and Bill's Valumart.

While these talents didn’t just sprout overnight in Meaford, it took someone to put it together and shine the light on what a great resource we have here. The full house on Saturday night showed that we are all beginning to recognize and appreciate the artists among us.

Photo courtesy of Patti Kendall


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