Robbie Robertson, former guitarist/songwriter for The Band, paid an emotional
tribute to his late bandmate Rick Danko on Wednesday (Dec. 15) during a
public memorial in Bearsville, N.Y.
Robertson took the stage early in the afternoon tribute and read a letter
he had written to Danko after the bassist’s death Friday, according to
mourners who attended the service.
“[It was] unbearably poignant, just beautiful and very touching,” Danko’s
publicist, Carol Caffin, said. “It was basically the things he missed
about Rick — ‘I miss your voice, I miss your hands.’ ”
Butch Dener, The Band’s road manager, described the letter as “old-friend
stuff.” Robertson, who wrote most of the group’s most famous songs,
including “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (RealAudio
excerpt), was the sole original member of The Band not to rejoin
the group when it reunited in 1983, seven years after it broke up.
The two-hour memorial service, attended by about 500 people at the Bearsville
Theatre, also featured musical performances from Danko’s friends, including
singer/songwriters John Sebastian and Jules Shear, attendees said.
Shear, perhaps best known as the original host of “MTV Unplugged,” performed
“Too Soon Gone,” a song he co-wrote for The Band’s 1993 album, Jericho,
Sebastian, former leader of the ’60s folk-rock band the Lovin’ Spoonful,
performed a solo harmonica version of “Amazing Grace,” Dener said.
“Sebastian played some beautiful harp,” he said.
Toward the end of the ceremony, most of the musicians present took the
stage to perform a version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” led by
Danko’s keyboardist, Aaron Hurwitz, according to Caffin. The Band covered
“I Shall Be Released” on their debut album, Music From Big Pink
The memorial was preceded by a private funeral service earlier in the day
in nearby Woodstock, N.Y., which was attended by all of the surviving
members of The Band, mourners said.
Many people from Woodstock, which Danko called home, attended both services,
according to Jim Peters, owner of Nipper, a local record store.
“Half the town was there. … They had traffic stopped at both ends of
town,” he said.
“Rick would’ve loved [this tribute],” Caffin said, “because the stories
that people were telling were so Rick. [He] would’ve been very happy,
Danko, whose high voice marked such classics as “Stage Fright”
excerpt) and “The Weight,” died in his sleep Friday morning at
age 56. No cause of death has been announced, but friends have said he
struggled with a severe weight problem.