(Cobourg, Ontario, Canada)
We went for a road trip this weekend and decided to stay overnight in Cobourg, Ontario…a town located almost 100 miles west of Kingston. This is just a bit too far to properly visit on a day-trip, but perhaps not far enough for a weekend trip. Beyond “it seemed like a nice place to explore, the last time we passed through”, not a lot of thought went into our choice.
We arrived to mid-afternoon rain and quickly visited the shops and indoor sights we wanted to see. We took a look at the historic Victoria Hall concert venue, located in a beautiful old stone building on Cobourg’s main street, and decided that it would be nice to attend a concert there some day.
As the drizzly weather continued, we decided to drive on to the nearby town of Port Hope to do some more shopping and indoor sightseeing. Port Hope has a compact but attractive downtown core and we made a point of visiting its restored “golden age of cinema” Capitol Theatre.
Inside the Capitol, we discovered that Port Hope (and Cobourg) were hosting the Vintage Film Festival that very weekend. They were showing some seriously old movies, including one silent movie on Sunday morning from 1917 that would feature a live piano accompanist! We resolved to return in the morning for that unique experience, if at all possible.
As we trudged on through the rain, I saw a poster for an upcoming concert: “Tribute to The Last Waltz”. I thought this would be interesting, as it featured a large band of well-known professional Canadian musicians recreating The Band’s legendary 1976 farewell concert. That concert was made into a movie by Martin Scorsese and also received a triple-album release on vinyl. In addition to music by The Band, that particular concert also featured performances by The Band with Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and many others.
Curious, we looked a little closer at the poster. The concert was going to be in Cobourg’s Victoria Hall! Tonight! Should we go? Yes! We raced back to Cobourg in search of tickets. It was a wild goose chase, as stores were closing and the concert appeared to be sold out. We actually tracked down the promoter himself and found out that two ticketholders *might* not be able to attend. At one minute before showtime, it was confirmed that there would be exactly two unused tickets. We were in! Even better, there were two empty seats in the 3rd row, just a few feet from the stage!
The concert featured a 9-piece house band (including a 4-piece horn section), plus various special guests…just like the original Last Waltz. The band’s drummer, Jerome Levon Avis, was the godson of Levon Helm – who was the drummer for The Band! Other musicians included members of famous bands such as Lighthouse and Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Writing about music is not an easy thing to do. How do you convey the chill down your spine when a Van Morrison sound-alike has a swinging band and horn section behind him? When that same band nails a soulful classic by The Band and the whole theatre is singing along like a gospel choir? It was like that for almost the entire 3-hour concert. Highlights for us included Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” and “Like A Rolling Stone”, Van Morrison’s “Caravan”, Dr. John’s “Such A Night” and every one of our favourite songs by The Band: “The Weight”, “Up on Cripple Creek”, and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, among others.
As we left the theatre, we had all of these classic songs (and more) replaying themselves over and over in our heads. It was plainly obvious that we weren’t the only ones. Thanks to the kindness of strangers in Cobourg, we had a completely unexpected and amazing experience (“Such A Night”, indeed!) on what was otherwise a dreary, rainy evening.
We didn’t make it to the piano-accompanied silent film screening in the morning…but the film festival is an annual event and we made a mental note to visit Port Hope and Cobourg again next fall.