Artists Provide a One-of-a-Kind Experience for Sold-Out Audience at All for the Hall Los Angeles
with VINCE GILL, KACEY MUSGRAVES, CHRIS STAPLETON, JAMES TAYLOR AND JOE WALSH
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum fundraiser includes a new song written and performed by sixth-grade students from Los Angeles’ Dorris Place Elementary School, with help from songwriters Liz Rose and Phil Barton, to highlight the Museum’s Words & Music educational program.
LOS ANGELES, September 28, 2016—An all-star lineup, extending across genres and generations, drew repeated standing ovations from a standing-room-only crowd at The Novo by Microsoft® theater during a transcendent All for the Hall benefit concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on September 27.
The two-hour program presented five wholly individual talents—Vince Gill, Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton, James Taylor and Joe Walsh—who proved that from-the-heart lyrics, matched with memorable melodies, can erase the lines between styles of music and overcome the difference in ages of the performers. What mattered was telling their own truths in their own idiosyncratic ways.
Gill has hosted or co-hosted every All for the Hall concert since he came up with the concept, when he began asking artists to contribute a performance to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “These shows are a gift to me because I get to invite artists I’m crazy about to come and play and sing music,” Gill said at the outset. “This night is one of the best we’ve been able to accomplish, because every one of these artists has had a huge impact on my life. It’s not just people who have come before you who have an impact on you. It’s also people who come after you and impact your life too. These great artists do that for me.”
The concert was modeled on the Nashville institution of a “guitar pull,” a casual affair in which songwriters take turns presenting works while other artists look on, sometimes adding harmony or instrumental accompaniment, while waiting to take their turn. The format encourages relaxed interaction between the performers, and on this night the multi-generational lineup of stars cracked jokes, praised each other, spoke of their good fortune, and testified about the power of lyrics and music—especially country music.
For example, when it came time for Musgraves’ first performance, she noted how happy she was to take part in such an intimate evening of music but also how much pressure she felt as a newcomer on stage with several members of the country and rock music halls of fame. “I want to say that this is a beautiful event because it focuses on the songs, and it’s just about the songs,” she said in her Texas drawl. “But I have to ask: Whose idea was it for me to follow James? Really? Thanks a lot.”
Gill, who set the stage arrangement, retorted, “We just wanted you in the middle because we’re a bunch of sorry-looking old men.”
Similarly, after a Stapleton performance, Walsh, who was next, said, “I closed my eyes during some of that, and I thought, ‘Wait a minute! That’s Al Green!’ Then I thought, ‘I’m doomed.’”
But Walsh rose to the challenge with a soulful, tender acoustic take on “Meadows,” a song from his landmark 1973 album, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get. He also reached into his catalog to perform “A Life of Illusion,” from 1981’s There Goes the Neighborhood.
Such interaction marked the evening, suggesting how comfortable the artists—some of whom had just met backstage—were with each other. After Musgraves performed a beautiful yet melancholy song, “Christmas Makes Me Cry”—set to appear on her upcoming holiday album—Walsh dropped his head and humorously sobbed out loud.
Other times, the emotions were real. After Gill performed Taylor’s “Bartender’s Blues,” a song that Country Music Hall of Fame member George Jones made into a top hit, Taylor revealed that he wrote the song with Jones in mind. A few months after he released the song on his 1977 album, JT, he was pleasantly shocked when informed Jones planned to record it and Jones’ producer, Billy Sherrill, invited Taylor to sing harmony.
“It was the most amazing turnaround,” Taylor said. “Life imitating art imitating life imitating art.”
Stapleton, before performing a stunningly quiet version of “Whiskey and You,” from his award-winning 2015 album, Traveller, wanted Walsh to know how much he admired him. “Me and my brother saved up all our money to buy tickets to go to see the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over tour in Charleston, West Virginia. To this day it’s the greatest concert I’ve ever seen.”
Throughout, the performances were powerful and emotional. The setting seemed to bring out the best in each artist: Gill and Taylor, after decades of performing, proved that their tenor voices retain all the beauty, purity of tone and emotional resonance that first made them stars; Walsh, whose voice always carried a lot of character, showed that his voice, too, has a rich and sweet tone sometimes obscured within his rock arrangements.
Both Musgraves and Stapleton revealed that a couple of years of steady road work has deepened the distinctive quality of their rare vocal talents. The incredible force of Stapleton’s voice has gained power in how he juxtaposes growling shouts with subtle soft tones and haunting whispers. Musgraves’ sweet yet barbed vocals have grown in how effectively she phrases her clever descriptions of the complexities of families and small town life.
As in past All for the Hall concerts, the artists did not draw on a scripted set list. Instead, they decided what to perform on the spur of the moment, inspired by what someone else had played or by their mood when their turn came. Sometimes, the songs came in response to requests onstage. Walsh prompted Taylor to sing “Steamroller Blues,” so that he could strap on his electric guitar and accompany Taylor. Gill also made a request, asking Taylor to close the night with his classic “Sweet Baby James.”
While many songs drew standing ovations from a crowd expressing their good fortune to be in the Novo theater for this one-off show, the first came for a group of youngsters making their stage debut. The evening started with a large collection of sixth graders from Dorris Place Elementary School, located in the Elysian Valley community of Los Angeles, performing “Far and Wide,” a song for which they wrote lyrics and set to music with help from Grammy-winning songwriter Liz Rose (“Girl Crush,” “You Belong with Me”) and songwriter-guitarist Phil Barton. Strumming ukuleles, the students sang the upbeat, singalong tune to the great delight of a crowd consisting largely of professionals from the music industry and related entertainment businesses.
The song provided a vibrant example of the inspiring work done by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Words & Music program, which pairs songwriters with students from schools across the United States. The program gives students a chance to express themselves while learning and participating in the creative process of songwriting. With partners Education Through Music, a national non-profit with offices in communities from New York to Los Angeles, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s education department will continue to work with other students throughout the country for the 2016–2017 school year.
The proceeds from the All for the Hall Los Angeles concert will be earmarked for the museum’s education department, which interacted with more than 185,000 people in 2015.
The All for the Hall series, produced by Museum board members Rod Essig, Ken Levitan and Jody Williams, began in New York in 2007 and repeated there in 2008. The series has alternated between New York and Los Angeles each succeeding year, with Gill as its host. Along with Keith Urban, Gill also co-hosts a regular All for the Hall concert in Nashville. The series has gained a reputation for one-of-a-kind concerts.
A sampling of past performers includes Jason Aldean, Gregg Allman, Zac Brown, Sheryl Crow, Rodney Crowell, Melissa Etheridge, Emmylou Harris, Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, Levon Helm, Kris Kristofferson, Jason Mraz, Brad Paisley, Lionel Richie, Paul Simon, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Dwight Yoakam, and many others.
The All for the Hall Los Angeles concert, as have past installments in the series, illustrated how intertwined country music is with other forms of popular music. Exploring those connections, and the cultural and historical importance of American music across regions and generations, is part of the mission of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and a story the Museum tells every day in its exhibits, publications and educational programs.
“What a great night, right?” Musgraves said midway through the program, drawing spirited affirmation from the crowd. “My dad is going to be so jealous he couldn’t be here.”