Granted, a 45th anniversary doesn’t carry as much cache as say, a 50th anniversary. On the other hand, when the event is about commemorating an album of special significance — in this case, Little Feat’s landmark live opus, Waiting for Columbus — numbers don’t matter much at all. It was, after all, the album that effectively summed up Little Feat’s career up until that point, a period that most fans still feel found Feat at their peak, prior to the passing of Lowell George, the man who steered their success early on.

The first in a series of live albums released by the band over the course of their career, Waiting for Columbus marked the final album that featured George prior to his decision to disband the band and his subsequent fatal overdose just over a year after the album’s release in February, 1978.

Sadly, that wouldn’t be the only loss the band suffered. Drummer Richie Hayward passed away in 2010, and in 2019, guitarist Paul Barrere succumbed to liver cancer. That left keyboardist and vocalist Bill Payne as the only surviving member of the original ensemble, although bassist Kenny Gradney and percussionist Sam Clayton can trace their tenure back to the band’s second and third albums, respectively. Multi-instrumentalist Fred Tackett can also claim a seasoned pedigree of his own, having played a pivotal role in Little Feat’s decision to reconvene in 1988.

The two new recruits, guitarist and vocalist Scott Sharrard and drummer Tony Leone, are firmly committed to the band’s legacy and boast impressive credentials of their own—Sharrard served as Gregg Allman’s musical director, and Leone earned his stripes while working with Phil Lesh, Levon Helm and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. 

Naturally, the spotlight often falls on Payne. His nimble keyboards still dazzle and delight, and as one of the frontline vocalists, he acquits himself admirably. That said, today’s Feat is a decidedly democratic unit. Sharrard handles much of the singing — no small task when it comes to conveying a seasoned standard like “Willin’” — and he also rivals Tackett as far as providing the lion share of lead guitar. For his part, Leone is an exceptional drummer, and the fact that he’s accorded the vocals on at least a couple of songs, makes him an essential utility player as well.

As a result, the current band puts its own stamp on these songs. “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Oh Atlanta,” “All That You Dream,” “Tripe Face Boogie,” “Rock and Roll Doctor,” and “Sailin’ Shoes” are the natural standouts, but they’re also given deeper and denser arrangements. There are times one has to wait for the chorus to achieve a familiarity factor. Immediacy gives way to the complexities of shared skills, which, in turn, demands that the audience lean in and listen.

“Dixie Chicken” was a notable exception, its irresistible melody bringing the crowd to its feet and ready to celebrate the Southern sentiment referred to in the refrain.
If you’ll be my dixie chicken, I’ll be your Tennessee lamb
And we can walk together down in Dixieland

Even apart from the lyrical reference to Memphis, Knoxville takes pride in being a part of Dixieland.

So too, of course, “Don’t Bogart That Joint,” from George’s pre-Feat tenure in the Fraternity of Man that also appears on Waiting for Columbus remains a natural crowd favorite. Not surprisingly, a whiff of herb could be detected after the songs’s final fade.

Despite an abbreviated set that consisted of only five songs, Amy Helm was an ideal opening act, especially when considering the fact that she and Leone had worked together in the band Ollabelle. Backed by her current outfit, The Handsome Strangers (bassist Byron Isaacs, guitarist Dan Littleton and drummer David Berger), she drew on songs from her new album, What the Flood Leaves Behind, while sharing some stunning harmonies between her and Littleton in the process. She also drew on the talents of the Midnight Ramble Horns, the same outfit that served her father so well and then came on later as support for Little Feat’s set.