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Kathleen Edwards: The Last Waltz and a new hometown

Bill DeYoung



Canadian singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards has fallen in love with St. Petersburg. Publicity photo.

Another snowbird has landed full time in St. Petersburg. Canadian singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards and her husband quietly purchased a house in town last year, and soon they’ll relocate from Stittsville, Ontario and become ‘Burgers.

Before that can happen, there’s a task that must be completed: The cross-country Last Waltz tour, in which a 10-member all-star band – including Edwards – performs The Band’s iconic 1976 farewell concert, in its entirety.

The tour happens to stop at the Mahaffey Theater Sunday night.

Edwards joins guitarist Warren Haynes and Anders Osborne, pianist Mike Medeski, bassist Don Was, percussionist Cyril Neville and others for full-throated interpretations of songs by The Band, and by a guest list that included Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Dr. John and Eric Clapton.

A four-man horn section adds the sonic punch to “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek” and other chestnuts from the Band catalog.

Haynes is perhaps the premier jam-band guitarist in the world; he was a longtime member of the Allman Brothers Band, and continues to plumb new labyrinthian depths of rock ‘n’ roll with his  band Gov’t Mule.

Edwards sings Dylan’s “Forever Young,” Young’s “Helpless,” the Band’s “Evangeline” (“I get to be Emmylou Harris!”) and more, as well as harmonizing on everyone else’s stuff.

She says they’re all having a blast.

“For everyone, it’s really been a nice reprise from what usually getting onstage feels like for all of us.

“I think what’s weird, for all of us, on a certain level we are used to getting up onstage every night and doing our material. Not only are we working as an ensemble kind of group, we’re also not playing songs that we’ve written. We’re kind of like an all-star cover band.

“Which is weird, and yet at the same time there’s really this wonderful collective spirit to how the songs are being played.”

Not all the Last Waltz tunes made the cut – Joni Mitchell’s “Coyote,” for example, was never rehearsed. Nor was “Dry Your Eyes,” the Neil Diamond spotlight that all agree kind of killed the momentum back in ’76.

“The problem,” says Edwards, “is that there’s so many of us, and there’s so many of the big songs, that we stuck with the core stuff.”

Edwards’ incisive blend of swinging, country-flavored Americana with sharply-honed and deeply personal lyrics won the hearts of folk, rock and even country audiences; on the heels of her acclaimed 2003 album Failer, she played stadiums as the support act for both Dylan and the Rolling Stones. She was a headliner at Bonnaroo.

Her early success, combined with a nasty breakup and divorce, led to Edwards abandoning the music business for several years, following the album Voyageur, produced by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. She opened a coffee shop, called Quitters because she found the name humorous and ironic, and ground, blended and brewed for eight years.

But the muse beckoned, and in 2020 she wrote and released a new album, Total Freedom. In its rave review, Paste called the collection “a welcome progress report from a musician who took the time she needed, and returns stronger and wiser than she was before, with a first-class collection of songs to prove it.”

Her return, however, coincided with the big bummer that was the Covid-19 pandemic, which meant she couldn’t tour as much as she would have liked. And running a coffee shop too?

“Ask any small business owner who dealt with major long-term closures of their business what that did to their bottom end … the reality was, I would’ve had to have worked for free for two years, and I was already really not earning a living from that. It was about building something good in my community. I learned an incredible amount. I had a great staff; we did something really special.

“But it was time to pass the baton. I think the joy of what I created got really burdened by the economics of the situation.”

So, goodbye Quitters. Hello Last Waltz.

And hello, St. Petersburg. She hopes to perform – a lot – on both sides of the bay.

“I came to St. Petersburg for a couple weeks in 2020 and I fell in love with it,” Edwards enthuses. “My husband and I loved the town; we just thought Central Avenue was such an interesting mix of amazing small businesses. We love the galleries, and we love Vinoy Park, and we love what’s happening there. It just seems like St. Pete really has something special.”

Tonight, after the tour party arrives in town from St. Augustine (they played there Friday), Edwards will sleep in her St. Pete bed for only the fourth time since they bought the house.

“It seems a little surreal still to me, the whole thing.”

Tickets for Sunday’s Mahaffey Theater show are here.

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