As a rare eclipsing supermoon rose over the outdoor amphitheater at Threadgill’s on Sunday evening, a similarly uncommon parade of performers took the stage to commemorate what organizers dubbed “The First Waltz.” Fifty years ago, Bob Dylan and The Band joined forces for their first-ever public concert across the street at Municipal Auditorium (where the Long Center now stands).
More than two dozen acts, most playing just one song, revisited classic material mostly from that 1965 era of Dylan’s career. (Here’s a link to the full list of songs performed.) The place was crowded even at the early 6 p.m. starting time; a few hundred attendees paid $20 to benefit the mental health nonprofit SIMS Foundation, raising about $5,000 dollars for the organization, according to event organizer Paul Minor.
The great success of The First Waltz was that it united a generational spectrum of Austin’s music community, both onstage and off. Younger fans who came to hear rising locals such as Carson McHone and Jonathan Terrell may have had their perspectives enlightened by pianist Earl Poole Ball’s rendition of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (he played on the Byrds’ original recording of the tune) and Rosie Flores’ hot take on “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” Similarly, older Austinites who were familiar with longtime local fixtures such as Beaver Nelson and the Gourds’ Jimmy Smith may well have had their heads turned by Ben Ballinger’s smoking-hot “I Don’t Believe You” or Sweet Spirit singer Sabrina Ellis’s blazing takes on “I Want You” and “Just Like a Woman.”
To no one’s surprise but everyone’s delight, the night’s best moments came from guitarist Denny Freeman, the one musician in the lineup who’s actually logged time with Dylan, playing several hundred shows in his touring band last decade. A guitarist on a different plane from the rest at Threadgill’s this night, Freeman proved the master lyricist’s songs don’t even need words to rise above, delivering transcendental versions of “Queen Jane Approximately,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
A remarkably efficient staff kept the show moving at an unheard-of-in-Austin 15 minutes ahead of schedule nearly all night. As the supermoon was hitting its full eclipse, Fastball’s Miles Zuniga led a free-for-all finale of the obvious closer, “Like a Rolling Stone.” The distant echoes from across the street resonated like a half-century dream.
See more short videos from the show on Instagram @Blackstock360. And a hat tip to longtime Austin soundman and musician Carl Ziegler for capturing this extended bit of the finale:
As The First Waltz was winding down, the final night of Holy Mountain was ramping up across the river a couple of miles away. After his 7 p.m. turn at Threadgill’s, Ben Ballinger headed there for a 9 p.m. opening slot on a bill that included Harvest Thieves and East Cameron Folkcore (with Holy Mountain co-owner James Taylor drumming for both) before country band Mike & the Moonpies closed it out.
For more, check out our story online at mystatesman.com and in Tuesday’s paper. Here’s a short video from Harvest Thieves covering the Alejandro Escovedo and Chuck Prophet song “Always a Friend,” with more from the Holy Mountain farewell on Instagram at @Blackstock360.