Dayton Masonic Center hosts return of ‘Last Waltz’

Annual fundraising concert recreates The Band’s legendary farewell performance.

Community fuels “Such A Night: The Last Waltz Live,” slated Friday, Nov. 25 at the Dayton Masonic Center after a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The popular show, created in 2013 by executive producer Jeff Opt, is now an annual Gem City tradition with more than two dozen local musicians recreating Martin Scorsese’s iconic 1978 concert documentary about The Band’s last hurrah.

Opt imagined the local production as a one-off show but its first year at Gilly’s, the former Dayton jazz club, was a massive success. The concert exceeded expectations, setting the stage for the special event to become a yearly fundraising tradition for WYSO-FM (91.3) and the Dayton Art Institute (DAI). There have been some unique offshoots, including a performance with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra at the Schuster Center in 2018, but the DAI’s Renaissance Auditorium became the concert’s regular home from 2014 to 2019.

“This year is a bit of a departure since we’ve primarily done it at the DAI,” Opt said. “We’re still doing it as a benefit for them but we decided we wanted to grow the show so we moved to the Masonic Center. Part of the reason for moving was (spacing) concern over COVID. The DAI theatre holds 450 people. At the Masonic Center, it’s more than 1,500 seats. The real beauty of the Masonic is it offers new opportunities. We’ll actually have a dance floor this year for the first time. We’re very excited about it.”

Credit: JENNIFER TAYLOR

Credit: JENNIFER TAYLOR

Moving to the Masonic

Floor access for this show was limited at 250 and the dance floor passes are sold out but Opt believes there is an option.

“We tried something new with a $5 pass that gets you down to the dance area from any seat, wherever you’re sitting,” he said. “Even though all of the dance floor passes have sold out, people can trade them around. If somebody in the party has a lanyard, they can go down and dance for a while and then go back up their party and let somebody else dance.”

“Hosting ‘Such a Night’ at Dayton Masonic Live is such an honor,” added local event producer Brian Johnson of Dayton Masonic Live. “We’re huge fans of the show and all of the artists and we couldn’t be more excited to put in the work to fill up this historic 1,700 seat historic venue. The early 1900s architecture and design of the space will be the perfect backdrop for such an iconic community event. We’re also really excited to be working with the organizers to build out a dance floor for the first time.”

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The live soundtrack

The original star-studded concert featured special guests such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison. The local version spotlights more than 30 area musicians. The main band is Jimmy D. Rogers, Patrick Himes, Trey Stone, Rich Reuter, Phil Caviness and Brian Hoeflich. Special guests include Sharon Lane, John Lardinois, Paige Beller, Amber Hargett, Gary King, Heather Redman, Nick Mitchell and others.

Musician David Payne of the New Old-Fashioned and Heather Redman and the Reputation attended the first “Last Waltz” show. He will join the band to sing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

“It was an incredible night of music with some of the greatest musicians around,” Payne said. “Then, a year or two went by and the guy who sang ‘Dixie’ in that original lineup moved away. So, my buddy, Harold Hensley, replaced him for the next show or two, and when Harold couldn’t make a summertime performance at Miami Valley Music Fest, I stepped in to cover the song for him. And, then, I never gave it back. The song is right in my sweet spot as a singer and I just had to keep doing it. I hope he forgives me someday. He’ll be singing ‘Ophelia’ this year, which is maybe my favorite song by the Band, so hopefully we’re square.”

After the two-year COVID break, Payne relishes the opportunity to return to a show that means so much to people.

“It’s a legendary concert and documentary with some of the greatest songs ever written that we are recreating, so a lot of people already have a connection with the show that way,” he said. “The fellowship and camaraderie are apparent on stage. A huge part of the original show is all the special guests The Band brought with them that night. We try to keep that spirit alive as we have 30-plus musicians involved. It just really helps showcase what’s so great about the Dayton music scene. I’m truly honored to be a part of it.”

Credit: JENNIFER TAYLOR

Credit: JENNIFER TAYLOR

Radio connection

WYSO-FM (91.3) has a number of fundraising events throughout the year, including regular pledge drives. According to Luke Dennis, the station’s general manager, “The Last Waltz” is a welcome support.

“For WYSO, it’s a third-party event that Jeff Opt makes happen,” Dennis explained. “It’s like money falls out of the sky for us and all we have to do is promote the concert. We run spots for it but Jeff does all the heavy lifting, organizing it, working with the venue and getting the musicians assembled. It has become a really important fundraiser for us and probably the easiest one we do all year because of all the volunteer work Jeff does.”

WYSO music director Juliet Fromholt was on staff at the station but also working a side gig at Gilly’s when the venue hosted the very first “Last Waltz” show in February 2013.

“The first one was magical for the audience members and band members,” Fromholt recalled. “I remember being there, working at Gilly’s, and everyone was like, ‘This was amazing. More people need to see this and experience this. This should happen again.’ The original concert by The Band was at Thanksgiving and when WYSO and DAI got involved, there was an opportunity to do something more as a holiday tradition. (Thanksgiving) is a time of year (when) a lot of people come home. We wanted to cater to an audience of music fans and musicians that might be coming back to the community and want to go to a show with family or as a friend group. It really ticked a lot of boxes.”

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Fostering community

In addition to raising funds for WYSO and Dayton Art Institute, Opt is using the show to support other local groups. In honor of Mike Depew, the show will donate money to the Carlisle High School Marching Band, a cause the project’s recently deceased horn player supported. Opt also commissioned a run of 100 regular posters and 40 variants designed by Ryan Henry that are available for a donation of $10 or $20. Proceeds will support the Erin Opt Scholarship with Adventure Chicks, named in memory of Opt’s late wife.

This type of concert is perfect for WYSO and reflective of the station’s commitment to Miami Valley culture.

“This show really speaks to the talent in our music community,” Fromholt said. “The Band is amazing anyway but there are so many of our local musicians who have really been able to shine with their interpretations of those songs. It’s been really magical to see that.”

Opt is optimistic about carrying that magical feeling forward.

“This is our first year back after COVID so we’re just trying to do one really good show but it’s easy to look forward to the future,” he said. “I see the potential for growth by having at the Masonic Center. We’re very excited to continue providing this great Dayton tradition. It’s amazing how the community has accepted and supported it. There are people that have been every year or to almost every show we’ve done, which never ceases to amaze me.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at donthrasher100@gmail.com.

HOW TO GO

What: “Such A Night: The Last Waltz Live”

Where: Dayton Masonic Live, 525 W. Riverview Ave., Dayton

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25; doors open at 7 p.m.

Cost: $25 to $45 in advance

More info: daytonmasonic.live

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