New roles, new venue, new format. A few new pieces are revolving around this year’s production of Stage Fright, The Rhythm Posse’s tribute show to The Last Waltz, but the same passion for The Band’s farewell concert film remains at the center of it all.
The Last Waltz is a concert film directed by Martin Scorsese which documents The Band’s farewell performance that was held at the Winterland Ballroom in 1976. The Thanksgiving Day show was an extravagant affair, featuring a turkey dinner, ballroom dancing, and poetry readings. It also brought The Band full circle, punctuating their sixteen years on the road with a concert in the same venue they made their live debut at. Musicians like Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell and many others showed up to perform with The Band on stage, making their send off one of the most star-studded and memorable concerts ever.
The Last Waltz is considered to be one of the best concert films of all time and holds a special place in the hearts of numerous music fans around the world. Eau Claire musician and keyboardist Billy Angell is one of those fans and he came up with the idea of doing a tribute concert in the Chippewa Valley. With the help of around 30 local musicians, he put together “Billy Angell Presents Stage Fright: A Tribute to The Last Waltz” at the House of Rock. The show was a song-by-song recreation of the legendary farewell concert, featuring Angell and a few others as members of The Band. A large group of local musicians joined the group on stage to round out the cast and the rest is history.
Stage Fright remained at the House of Rock for its second year and lead to the core band of Angell, Jeremy Holt, Levi Felling, and Lucas Fischer forming the New Orleans-style funk band The Rhythm Posse. Starting with the third year, the show was retitled to “The Rhythm Posse Presents Stage Fright: A Tribute to The Last Waltz” and it has been played at Stones Throw, The Plus, and The Lismore to accommodate the annually growing audience.
(Pictured from left to right: Jeremy Holt, Billy Angell, Lucas Fischer, and Levi Felling)
Beyond paying tribute to the classic film, Stage Fright is also an opportunity for many Chippewa Valley musicians to join each other on stage to play familiar tunes. Many of them enjoy playing the roles of legendary musicians, with some even dressing up in the era’s attire for their character. The Rhythm Posse recruits different musicians for each role every year, barring two instances throughout the last eight years in which someone was repeated in a part. A horn section also plays in the show, usually featuring local brass players like Dave Burki, Sue Orfield, Jay Collins, and Tom Collins.
Now in its eighth year, Stage Fright 8 will act as the inaugural show for The Metro, a new event center in downtown Eau Claire. The Metro can accommodate around 500 people for concerts or other entertainment events. The new venue also houses a kitchen, allowing Stage Fright 8 to have its first ever dinner show where they’ll be serving pizza, pasta and more during the first show of the night.
With so many moving parts to a show that was essentially a Thanksgiving concert, donating to charity was quickly determined to be the best way to handle the profits. In the past, proceeds were given to Feed My People. This year, the donations will be made out to The Community Table. As The Rhythm Posse’s Lucas Fischer put it, “What a perfect time of the year to make sure folks aren’t going hungry.”
Stage Fright 8 will be held on Wednesday, November 22 at The Metro (formerly The Boys and Girls Club). There is an earlier dinner show at 5:30 pm ($22 in advance or $25 at the door). The later show starts at 9:30 pm ($10 in advance or $12 at the door). Tickets are available at The Plus, Pedals Music, Schmitt Music, Speed of Sound and volumeonetickets.org