On Thanksgiving of 1976, The Band was to play their “final concert” at Bill Graham‘s Winterland Ballroom. They were famously joined by an exceptional group of friends and musical guests, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond, and Eric Clapton. The night was advertised as “The Last Waltz” and Martin Scorsese documented the entire night, later turning it into a film using the same title.
The evening’s décor included a full Thanksgiving feast for the 5,000 attendees, entertainment from a 40-piece string group called the Berkeley Promenade Orchestra, and set decorations from San Francisco Opera’s production of La Traviata. Bill Graham went above and beyond in making this night perfect, he even brought in chandeliers and installed a fountain in the lobby. The Winterland never looked so good.
Once dinner was consumed and cocktails were beginning to spill, The Band took the stage and welcomed their friends to join in for one of the most epic nights of rock and roll history. It was a night for celebrating, for dancing, for having fun. It was said that the only thing missing from the night were the professional photos that were taken.
Forty years later and the lost treasures are finally found.
“We were searching through shots of a 1980 Bread and Roses show featuring Joni Mitchell playing guitar with B.B. King. Looking at the negatives as I scanned them, it became clear it was a different show,” explained Bill VanNiekerken, the library director of The San Francisco Chronicle. He continues, “The first few negatives showed an indoor venue with ornate decorations. It didn’t look dilapidated enough for Winterland, but by the 10th negative I was looking at couples dancing, maybe waltzing, and I started to get excited. I kept scanning, and there they were: dozens of shots of the concert, taken by ace Chronicle photographer Gary Fong, showing The Band, the guest rockers and the final jam with all of the musicians on stage.”
The Band – The Last Waltz – Full Concert – 11/25/76 – Winterland