2009 All For The Hall Los Angeles

October 1, 2009
“Any visitor to the [Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum] realizes that music also can take the form of a joke, a nursery rhyme, a prayer, a come-on or a campfire tale. … Harris, Yoakam, Melissa Etheridge and Vince Gill touched upon all those forms, showing the flexibility of ‘country’ as they did so. … Call it country, but it really isn't any one thing.”
Ann Powers, Los Angeles Times

The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum's third annual All for the Hall fundraiser, featuring distinguished talents Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, and Melissa Etheridge, and hosted by Chris Isaak, proved to be an extraordinarily moving experience. Held for the first time in Los Angeles, at Club Nokia at L.A. Live on October 1, the event featured the musicians in a “guitar pull.” The relaxed format, a Nashville tradition where songwriters trade off performing new and favorite material, not only brought out some exceptional songs, it afforded each singer a sense of spontaneity and connection with their colleagues that created a unique momentum.

The evening began with a welcome from Museum Director Kyle Young, who acknowledged the West Coast's significant contributions to country music and treated the crowd to a screening of two clips from the Museum’s Frist Library and Archive: a segment from the Buck Owens Ranch TV show; and a soundie from late songwriter Cindy Walker, who recently bequeathed the writer’s share of her songs to the Museum. Young recognized the institution’s responsibility to make Walker’s songs available to the largest possible audience through exhibits, school and family programs, books and recordings, and more, as it does with the rest of the Museum’s unduplicated collection. Host Chris Isaak then took the stage to perform “You Hurt Me So,” and his heartfelt version of this sad Owens rarity set a friendly, reflective mood.

Gill and Harris, both of whom spent the early years of their musical careers in Los Angeles, paid homage to West Coast country-rock catalyst Gram Parsons with soulful versions of some of Parsons' finest compositions, including a deeply felt treatment by Gill of Parsons’ epochal “Sin City.”  Melissa Etheridge, the Academy Award-winning rocker who first sang publicly with a country band in her childhood home of Leavenworth, Kansas, joined them to deliver a sensitive, bittersweet “Me and Bobby McGee” that further enhanced the contemplative, emotional atmosphere.

The rapt audience included legendary producer (and former Elvis Presley and Emmylou Harris pianist) Tony Brown; recording artist and songwriter Sarah Buxton; Desperate Housewives actor James Denton; eclectic singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones; renowned western tailor Manuel; actress-writer-director Marianna Palka; actress Mary Kay Place, star of television’s Big Love; and film-theater-television actor Jason Ritter, son of the late actor John Ritter and grandson of Country Music Hall of Fame member Tex Ritter.  For more than two hours, the guests were treated to a stunning ensemble performance that took on a unique life of its own, marked by the sincerity, humor and casual precision characteristic of a guitar pull.

As Gill said, “These are old songs, meaningful songs,” but some of the most affecting numbers were brand new, yet to be recorded titles, particularly “Bread and Water,” a harrowingly intimate  ballad Gill co-wrote with Leslie Satcher, and another, co-written with his wife, Amy Grant, featuring the memorable refrain “What’s the worst they can do / Threaten me with Heaven?” The session was far reaching and consistently impressive. Among the highlights were Yoakam’s version of the Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman song “Wheels,” with Harris singing harmony, and his chilling murder ballad “Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses);” Etheridge’s newly minted and deeply touching “Company;” and some fascinating reminiscences including a discussion of late Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt, wherein Gill asked “What was Townes’ motto?” Harris replied, “There are two kinds of music: blues and zip-a-dee-doo-dah.”

The foursome were accompanied by guitarist Eddie Perez and bassist Jonathan Clark throughout the program, which also included guest appearances by blue-eyed soul icon Michael McDonald, who provided a tender version of  the Cindy Walker / Eddy Arnold classic “You Don’t Know Me,” and by songwriter and American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi, who sang her plaintive “Lost,” recorded by Faith Hill.  The evening climaxed with a playful ensemble version of Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally.”  Behind it all was a clear sense of the performers’ abiding reverence not only for country music, but also for the Museum itself. 

“Someone can go in there,” Gill said before the show, “and whether they’re a new fan or a fifty-year-old fan who has loved this music for their whole life, they can see everything that’s ever been done.  The Hall of Fame is where the history of all this music lives, and that’s what's so beautiful about it.”

Gill serves as president of the Museum’s Board of Officers and Trustees and is the founder and leader of the educational institution’s All for the Hall fundraising initiative. The evening’s concert was produced by CAA’s Rod Essig and Vector Management’s Ken Levitan, both members of the Museum’s Board of Officers and Trustees. AEG Live chairman Tim Leiweke served as the event’s presiding chair for the third consecutive year.  Other board members in attendance included Mark Bloom, Brown, David Conrad, Randy Goodman, trustee emeritus Harris, Lon Helton, trustee emeritus Bruce Hinton, Henry Juszkiewicz, Jody Williams and ex officio member Tammy Genovese. 

The Host Committee for the All for the Hall Los Angeles event included Orly Adelson (Dick Clark Productions), Irving Azoff (LiveNation), Mark Bloom (UBS Financial Services), Thomas Carroll (SunTrust Bank), Anne Davis (First Lady of Nashville), Jay Faires (Lionsgate), Gary Haber (Haber Corporation), Henry Juszkiewicz (Gibson Guitar Corporation), Sylvia Roberts (Nashville community leader) and Jody Williams (BMI).