Nostalgia was in the air Friday night at Radio Radio as local musicians recreated The Band's Last Waltz in tribute to the late Levon Helm and as a benefit concert for Down Syndrome Indiana. Prior to the show, I overhead several concertgoers talking about attending the original Last Waltz or going to one of the Midnight Ramble concerts Levon Helm held in his barn in Woodstock, New York.
While not of the same generation as many of my fellow concertgoers, the music of The Band also takes me back, albeit to an era of more recent vintage. I associate The Band with the fall semester of my freshman year of college and walking to class in the rain. Listening to Music From Big Pink kept my spirits buoyant despite the drizzly conditions.
The musicians, fueled by the enthusiasm of the audience, gave some truly outstanding performances. One of the dangers of performing as tribute act is getting the sound just right. The Haters really nailed the aesthetics of The Band, particularly with regard to the keyboards and vocals. The Socko Horns were omnipresent throughout the evening and gave many of the songs a bit more punch.
The Haters' version of "The Weight" was one of the emotional highpoints of the concert, particularly thanks to the vocals of The Fabulous Jones Sisters who portrayed The Staple Singers. Another great duet was "Evangeline" featuring Stasia Demos as Emmylou Harris.
Two standout perfomers were Bill Mallers as Dr. John and Gary Wasson as Neil Young. Mallers performed a rollicking version of "Such A Night" that perfectly captured the swampy, New Orleans vibe of Dr. John. Gary Wasson nailed the harmonica sound of Neil Young. No one else in the world sounds quite like Neil Young, but Wasson's clear tenor suited "Helpless" well.
Mike Wiltrout as Neil Diamond was one of my favorite performances of the night. Wiltrout disappeared into the role and sang "Dry Your Eyes" without a hint of irony. He was so good, worthy of an entire set of Neil Diamond material. Mina Keohane made an excellent Joni Mitchell. The songs of Joni Mitchell require finesse, due to Mitchell's large vocal range and her intricate melodies.
The set of blues material was excellent, particularly Bryan Meyer's performance of "Mannish Boy." Brian Deer made for a first-rate Eric Clapton and his performance reminded me why I was so entranced by the music of Eric Clapton when I was younger.
The best performance of the entire show, bar none, was that of Matt Mays as Van Morrison. Mays' rendition of "Caravan" was chill inducing, one of the most stirring performances I've seen, it was hard to believe that Van Morrison hadn't been plucked from 1976 and transported to the stage of Radio Radio.
The set of Bob Dylan material was excellent and Joel Henderson did an excellent job capturing the look and sound of Dylan, fresh off the Rolling Thunder Revue tour. "I Shall Be Released," made for an emotional and stirring finale for The Ramble at Radio Radio.
The sheer joy, energy and dedication of the performers made for an unforgettable night of music and it would behoove the organizers of the event to make this an annual benefit for Down Syndrome Indiana.
Slideshow: The Ramble at Radio Radio
View photos of The Ramble at Radio Radio by photographer Daniel Axler