The Grass Waltz show in Atlanta

Atlanta, Georgia has long been home to many things. It’s a vibrant cosmopolitan city with a diverse population that manages to retain it’s southern charm. Measured with its surrounding suburbs, the population is close to 6 million people so if it’s a thing, there are people in Atlanta doing it. And that includes bluegrass, of course.

This week, The Smoke Ring restaurant in Atlanta is hosting a unique concert featuring a bluegrass version of music from the classic film, The Last Waltz. The movie captured the final live performance in 1978 by The Band, a popular rock band in the 1960s and ’70s who came to prominence as Bob Dylan’s touring band back when he was offending the folk music establishment by going electric.

For roots rock aficionados, The Last Waltz is a touchstone for the late ’70s sound, and The Smoke Ring has previously presented recreations of the concert in their large music room featuring popular Atlanta musicians. But as a Thanksgiving special, they decided that a bluegrass variant would be fun. So they asked Shawn Spencer, a local artist known for his progressive bluegrass if he could put something together, and the initial Grass Waltz concert was born.

This Wednesday evening, November 22, Shawn and a cast of Atlanta pickers from the recurring bluegrass jam at The Smoke Ring will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. They will be appearing as Bluegrass Premiere League and The Grass Waltz.

Spencer found some success in the jam grass scene right out of college with a group called Seven Handle Circus, consisting of seven guys who went to school together at Georgia Tech. They incorporated the rock sound they had grown up with into the bluegrass they had discovered in college, and made a couple of albums together before breaking up in 2015.

He says that he and his Grass Waltz compatriots have rehearsed a bit for the Wednesday night show, but are getting down to it this week. Shawn will play guitar in the main band, with Jared Womack on dobro, Jared Lanham on mandolin, and David Schroeder on bass. Like the original concert it is based on, guests will also be included throughout the show.

When we asked Spencer if The Grass Waltz had been inspired by The Hillbenders and their bluegrass treatment of The Who’s rock opera, Tommy, he sounded quite surprised and said, no, he hadn’t heard it. But he loved the idea, and is sure to check it out. I also asked if they might do this performance again, bluegrass style, but he hedged a bit saying, “Let’s see how this one goes.”

The Smoke Ring is a barbecue restaurant, managed by a chef with culinary credentials – think a high-end smokery. They are creating a special menu for the evening with a Thanksgiving theme.

Like many college towns, lots of recent graduates who have moved on to find employment elsewhere return home to Atlanta for the Thanksgiving weekend. This sounds like the place for them to be in 2017.

You can find out more about The Smoke Ring online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.