2013 All for the Hall New York
February 26, 2013
An all-star lineup representing generations of country, blues and rock highlighted the soulful connection between musical genres at the Best Buy Theater during a stylish All for the Hall fundraiser for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on February 26. Tying the artists together was the emotional depth of the songwriting and the distinctive quality of each of the voices-as well as the respect and admiration they shared for each other.
Pat Monahan, of the rock band Train, explained the special communal feel of the event when saying he ignored a doctor's advice to rest his vocal cords because of health issues. "But I couldn't not be here tonight," he said, "because this is the most special moment of my life."
Monahan joined blues-rock veteran Gregg Allman, country superstar Jason Aldean, renowned country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, Country Music Hall of Fame members Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris, and new country sensation Ashley Monroe for the two-hour performance, which drew repeated enthusiastic ovations from the VIP crowd.
Warren Haynes, leader of blues rockers Gov't Mule, played guitar and sang harmony with Allman-a role he often takes as a longtime member of the Allman Brothers Band. Joan Osborne, a Kentucky native living in New York, performed a duet on "Love and Happiness" with Harris, who co-wrote the song with Kimmie Rhodes.
The concert was a take-off on the Nashville institution of a "guitar pull," a casual set-up in which performers take turns presenting their songs while the other artists look on or add harmony and instrumentation. The format allowed for relaxed interaction between performers, and the participants traded personal stories and mixed new tunes with longtime favorites. It created an intimate atmosphere that deepened the connection between performers and audience members-and between the artists themselves.
The concert didn't feature a set list. In a guitar pull, the performers decide what to sing on the spur of the moment, inspired by what someone else has just played or by the mood they are in when it's their turn. More than once, partners like Harris and Crowell or Allman and Haynes took a moment to discuss with each other, on the spot, to decide what to sing.
"Tonight you will hear some great songs, possibly some new songs, but we don't know which songs and neither do our songwriters," said Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, in his introductory remarks. "The performances will be spontaneous. That's the deal that makes this real."
The All for the Hall concert series began in New York in 2007 and repeated in Manhattan in 2008. The series moved to Los Angeles for three successful years before returning to New York and the Best Buy Theater this year. "We are delighted to be back," Young told the crowd, noting that the late Levon Helm, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was among the cast for the 2008 show at the same theater-district venue, a program also hosted by Gill and Harris, that featured Crowell as a special guest.
Young took the opportunity to outline plans for the major expansion of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which will open in 2014. Young announced that the campaign has raised more than $71 million, including a lead gift of $6.5 million from philanthropists Steve and Judy Turner. Young surprised Steve Turner, the museum's board chairman, with a birthday cake carted on-stage as the crowd serenaded him. Young also introduced Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and his wife, Anne Davis, thanking them for traveling to New York for the concert, and for the mayor's leadership in shining a spotlight on Nashville's rich cultural scene.
Gill and Harris served as hosts, with Gill introducing each performer and starting the show with a solo rendition of his hit "Whenever You Come Around." Crowell and Harris covered a recent Kris Kristofferson song, "Chase the Feeling," and followed it with "Love Hurts," a Felice and Boudleaux Bryant song, setting a precedent that the artists weren't limited to singing only their own compositions or their hits.
It didn't take long for others to follow suit. Allman started with a poignant version of a Jackson Browne song, "These Days." He had recorded the song for his first solo album, Laid Back, released almost exactly forty years ago in March 1973.
"I have to follow that?" Aldean said after the Allman performance, to a round of laughter from the stage and crowd. Gill retorted, "You probably aren't going to get a lot of people to feel sorry for you. Your career is white-hot dude. Congratulations."
Aldean told a story about how many years he spent trying to write songs "that would change the world," and then the hit that shot his career into the stratosphere "turned out to be about a tractor. I'm done trying to figure it out at this point." He then performed "Big Green Tractor," which drew a loud reaction as soon as he introduced it.
When his turn came, Monahan joked, "What am I doing here?" As the leader of a San Francisco pop-rock band, he didn't have the same country or southern connections of the other performers. But his strong, soul-stirring voice and the colorful details of his songs, mostly about relationships, illustrated how country songwriting influences other genres. Also, many country singers have covered Monahan's work, including top stars Dixie Chicks and Martina McBride. The band's recent single "Bruises" is a duet with All for the Hall performer Ashley Monroe. Monahan opened with "Sure Feels Good at First," which displayed the power of his tenor voice when he stepped away from the microphone to sing the second verse without amplification, drawing enthusiastic applause for his gutsy move.
The Monahan-Monroe connection underlined another theme: Many of those on stage felt deeply connected to at least one of the other artists. Crowell and Harris have a new duet album, Old Yellow Moon, released the day of the concert. Gill once played guitar in Crowell's band, and they've co-written songs together. Aldean came of age in Macon, Georgia, where the Allman Brothers Band was based for many years, and their music inspired him to become a musician. Gill produced Ashley Monroe's upcoming Warner Bros. album, Like a Rose, and Aldean had a #1 hit with Monroe's song "The Truth."
"Accompanying me tonight on guitar is a new kid in town, Vince Gill," Monroe wise-cracked. "I'm going to give it a whirl and see if it works out. I believe in you, Vince, I think you have something special."
Earlier, Gill had said, while introducing Monroe, "Ashley is going to be the workhorse tonight. When we found out she was coming, everyone wanted to sing with her. This is one of the rarest talents I've ever heard." He described her as owning "a beautiful voice on top of an old soul. That's a deadly combination."
Gill also noted that the night would have been the late Johnny Cash's 81st birthday, and he honored the Country Music Hall of Fame member by performing "Ring of Fire" with help from Harris and Crowell (who was once Cash's son-in-law through his marriage to Rosanne Cash).
Each performer took three turns, and at the last minute, Gill gave the microphone to Allman to close the show. After huddling with Haynes and Aldean, the three performed "Long Black Veil," a Danny Dill-Marijohn Wilkin song initially popularized by Lefty Frizzell. Earlier, the same three guys collaborated on a powerful version of Allman's signature solo hit, "Midnight Rider."
Afterward, as Aldean prepared to follow Allman again, he said, "Do you have something to play that's maybe not that cool next time?" Gill jokingly retorted, "No he doesn't."
Amid his guitar accompaniment for Allman, Haynes stepped out to sing a song of his own, "Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House," which was a #1 hit for Garth Brooks in 1991. In introducing it, Haynes summed up one of the evening's themes. "We were talking backstage about the fine line between blues and country music. Sometimes it's just an interpretation." He proceeded to transform the song into a gritty, Delta-style acoustic blues.
Among the evening's guests were Claire Bowen and Sam Palladio, who portray young, up-and-coming performers in the ABC-TV drama, Nashville. Singer-songwriter Holly Williams, daughter of Hank Williams Jr., also attended the event.
"Nashville rocks," Harris said at one point, after Gill introduced the city's mayor. The All for the Hall New York event both supported her claim and expanded on it by showing just how intertwined country is with other forms of popular music. Exposing and exploring those connections is part of the mission of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and a story it tells every day in its exhibits.