On Thanksgiving Day in 1976, more than 5,000 fans showed up to the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Martin Scorcese was there too, documenting the evening’s gig — a long, guest-heavy performance by the Band, who’d decided to toss in the towel at the peak of their abilities — with help from the same cinematographers who’d filmed Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. The result was The Last Waltz, a concert film that — like the turkey dinners served at the Winterland that night — has also become a yearly Thanksgiving staple in countless households.
One of the songs played that night was Robbie Robertson’s “Ophelia,” a Dixieland-inspired blast of barroom soul that’s gone on to enjoy a long life in modern-day roots music. Bon Iver, Warren Haynes, My Morning Jacket and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley have all covered the song live, while Vince Gill recorded his own version for the Maverick soundtrack in 1994. In the video above, Eric Church gets his own piece of the action, leading his band through a loose, laid-back version of “Ophelia” during an April 2015 performance in Edmonton, Alberta.
“A’ight! Chorus now!” he yells at one point, signaling the end of Driver Williams’ guitar solo. The band follows his lead, and while there may be few bumps along the way — a botched chord here, a lazy cymbal crash there — the cover still feels like a heartfelt tribute to the Band, a group whose concerts always prized passion well above perfection.