But the most dramatic — and timely — change was to “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” Robbie Robertson’s bitter-Southerner account of the end of the Civil War. Alabama country singer Early James performed it, beginning with a warning that his version would be markedly different, with key lyrics changed to reflect the U.S.’s ongoing reckoning with its Confederate mistake. “I hope we piss off the right people,” he said.
“Tonight,” James emphasized in the chorus, “we drive old Dixie down” — a final rebuke of the South’s Lost Cause mythology. In the last verse, he sang about how Confederate statues and monuments will fall: “Depraved and powered to enslave, I think it’s time we laid hate in its grave/I swear by the earth beneath my feet, monument won’t stand no matter how much concrete.”
King’s Last Waltz served to unite and raise funds for MusiCares and Spotify’s COVID-19 Music Relief, and it stood as a celebration of community. Along with James and Cook, King welcomed guests like Rose (channeling Rick Danko on “Stage Fright”), Nicki Bluhm (sounding uncannily like Joni Mitchell on “Coyote”), trumpeter-singer Jennifer Hartswick (a joyful “Further on Up the Road”), and the U.K. duo Ida Mae, who tapped into the unhinged electricity of the Band’s early mentor Ronnie Hawkins with a rambunctious “Who Do You Love.”
By the nearly 90-minute concert’s end, King was beaming as he welcomed the entire cast back for the obvious closer: “The Weight.” Like the rest of his Last Waltz, this oft-covered spiritual felt vital and urgent. It was a reminder that even the most established of bedrock can be chiseled into something to meet the present moment.
Fans can still purchase King’s Last Waltz concert here until midnight August 4th, and can watch this performance on-demand along with the other three shows in his Four of a Kind series, through August 11th.