The Last Waltz Tribute is Back: A Mercifully Flashing-Free Chat with Johnny Vegas



Once a year, the Stag Nite All-Stars form a ramshackle convergence to pay loving, egg-nog-addled tribute to The Last Waltz, arguably the most famous concert in history. Spearheaded musically by Mark Moynihan of Racketbox, the group also includes members of a dozen-odd other south city mainstays. This year's installment will be at Off Broadway (3509 Lemp Avenue, 314-773-3363) -- the Last Waltz's home for several years now -- tomorrow, November 23rd. Tickets are $10 and the show starts at 9 p.m.

We spoke via email to Mark's brother and co-organizer Johnny Vegas about how this thing works, who would win in a series of hypothetical showdowns with the organizers of the week's other tribute nights at Off Broadway, and his services as an ordainer minister.

Kiernan Maletsky: Who exactly is involved?

Johnny Vegas: The Stag Nite All Stars is a collective -- or clusterfuck -- of several musicians that has been the core of several tribute nights that we have done over the years. Beside the annual Last Waltz show we have paid tribute to The Stones, Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bowie, The Kinks, Irish Music...we even did a show of all KSHE Classic songs. Before we retire we plan on doing a show of all Truck Driving Songs and a Shel Silverstien night.

The Last Waltz crew is a combination of Racketbox, The Red Headed Strangers and the know...bands that start with the letter "R". We also have Kari Liston from the Bottoms Up Blues Gang, The Reverend Whiskey Richard, Tom Wood, Larry from Magic City and of course, little ol' me. Ol' man Steve [Pohlman] from Off Broadway has been giving me shit for years about adding some new blood to the lineup, so this year we have Old Capital Square Dance Club, Alley Ghost and hopefully Old Lights adding some new songs and stealing some from the regulars. We can never really say who exactly will all be there on a given night, we think this is the seventh time that we have done this show and there are always last minute surprises and emergencies that I usually have to deal with with while Ol' man Steve breathes down my neck.

Do you play particular roles -- as in, does someone play all the Robbie Robertson parts or something -- and if so who stands in for who?

Nobody is willing to wear the scarf that Robbie had on for the original concert -- it carries a lot of weight and guilt. If there was a leader, that would be my brother Mark (Vegas) Moynihan of Racketbox, it was his idea to do this in 2006 at Magee's (the first home of Stag Nite) and he and I put this thing together every year. The group just plays the songs the best they can. This isn't Dark Star Orchestra with the same guitar amps and mic cables from the show that they are trying to recreate or Mini Kiss or The Back Doors or the current Lynyrd Skynyrd: just a bunch of burnouts playing the music they love in their own way.

Does the set list change from year to year? How do you decide what to play and what to leave out?

Any song that was performed at the Last Waltz concert on Thanksgiving Day in 1976 is fair game as well as any song the Band ever recorded or played on. That gives us room to add more acts every year.

What is the ideal number of drinks you should consume over the course of the night as an audience member to maximize enjoyment?

We all chug egg nog up until the curtain goes up. We don't recommend that for the audience.

Why is this better than El Monstero?

There are no Pink Floyd songs!

Why is this worse than El Monstero?

There is no Jimmy Griffin!

Do you watch the documentary before you start in on this?

We used to but these days we watch Youtube videos of our shows so we can remember our arrangements. Thanks to folks like Craig Deeken and his DeeksPeeks channel we can look at ourselves on the TV and pretend we are watching VH1 Classics.

Also, it is tough to watch the movie several times and not want to strangle Robbie Robertson. Is the goal faithfulness or reinterpretation?

We just love the music and play it in a way that the band is comfortable with.

The tough part about doing an email interview is the fact that I can't pull the ol' Sharon Stone "Basic Instinct" trick on you. Next time we do a video chat!

What is the best thing that has ever happened at one of these things?

John Joern, The King of France, does the best Van Morrison impersonation ever on the song "Caravan". Also, I think one of the band members got laid one time!

What is the worst thing that has ever happened at one of these things?

I do the Neil Diamond song ever year, like it or not.

How has the preparation changed as the show evolves from year to year?

We don't really have to work as hard as the early days. Gives us more time to quietly hate each other and work on our fashionable drug habits.

Off Broadway plays host to three tribute nights this week, to the Last Waltz, Guided By Voices and Harry Nilsson. I am only barely arbitrarily nominating you, Matt Harnish and Dave Anderson as the official representatives of these respective shows.

Actually it's four, on Sunday the band Pepperland is playing a shitton of George Harrison songs. I hope ol' Man Steve is paid up on his BMI/ASCAP licenses.

Matt and I were talking about fucking around with ol' Man Steve and having a band get up during each of the shows and play songs from one of the other nights, but Matt and I have lots of dumb ideas. I am actually gonna do a song at the Nilsson show as well, after I perform a wedding between two of my band mates earlier that day. Yes, I am an ordained minister and will marry you for $99.95!

Who would win in fight between you, Matt and Dave -- round robin tournament style?

We would all end up crying together in a cuddle puddle.

Who would win in a drinking contest?

Check back on Sunday for that one.

Who would win in a guitar solo contest?

Dave would win that one. He can just look at a guitar and it starts shredding on its own. I would win for being the guy who calls himself a musician because he knows four songs on the ukulele. Matt would win for having the hottest bass player in the world.

Who would win in a drunken karaoke contest decided by audience cheering?

Matt, no question about that one.

Note: There is also a regular Stag Nite at El Lenador that nite with the Orbz, Supermoon and Bulletpop.

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