October 15, 2008
Prominent leaders in business, entertainment and media expressed their support for the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum at the not-for-profit educational organization's second annual All for the Hall New York fundraiser at the Nokia Theatre Times Square on October 15.

Hosted by actor-musician Billy Bob Thornton and his band, the Boxmasters, the select crowd included veteran NBC newscaster Tom Brokaw; film directors Jonathan Demme and Andrew Jarecki; musician and painter Bob Neuwirth; record producer Nile Rodgers; comedian and TV personality Jeffrey Ross; former NBC anchor John Siegenthaler Jr. and his wife, former Seattle TV news anchor Kerry Brock; ESPN newscaster Hannah Storm;  and country singer Chely Wright.

“There are a lot of dignitaries here tonight, a lot of important people, a lot of people in suits, like us,” Thornton said, referring to the matching ties and jackets worn by the Boxmasters. “The main thing tonight is have a little fun and loosen up. Some of the people you’re going to hear and see tonight are legendary, iconic folk who are the reason we’re here to begin with. We’re here to respect them and respect this great form of music.”

Welcoming the crowd, Museum Director Kyle Young confirmed that the night’s focus was to share good music and celebrate what homegrown American songs do best. “These are challenging times, I know,” Young said. “I promise you that, tonight, we can all forget our troubles for a while, because we’re about to be transported out of ourselves by awesome music from some of our country’s most accomplished and acclaimed artists.”

The exclusive crowd listened raptly to acoustic performances by singer-songwriters Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and Levon Helm, with musical support from multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell and Dobro specialist Jerry Douglas. The six musicians lined the stage in a guitar pull, a Nashville specialty where the performers take turns singing their songs to the accompaniment of the others. They shared stories while selecting songs for their poignancy and emotional power rather than their popularity or chart positions, which made for an evening that underscored how deeply touching and poetic country music can be.

“We’re so grateful that you are here with us tonight,” Gill said. “Whatever you do to embrace us, we’re grateful for it. It’s not about how much we’re going to raise, it’s not about how much we’re going to wind up with at the end of the day. We’re just glad that you’re here to share our music with us.”

Nancy Jarecki, owner of bettybeauty inc. and self-proclaimed country music ambassador to New York, co-chaired the event with AEG Live chairman Tim Leiweke. Jarecki underscored the importance of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as an institution with an important archive and research facility. “If you haven’t been there, I urge you to go see this amazing establishment,” she said. “Until you see it, you won’t realize the many people and events that have affected you that are honored under the roof down there. It’s an amazing place.”

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. Other board members in attendance included Chairman Steve Turner, Butler's Run LLC; Al Giombetti, Ford Motor Company; John Grady, Red Light Management; Francis Guess, The Danner Company; Henry Juszkiewicz, Gibson Guitar Co.; Jody Williams, BMI; Tim Wipperman, Equity Music Group; and ex-officio board member Tammy Genovese, Country Music Association. Gill is the board president and Harris is a trustee emeritus.

An auction hosted by Jarecki included a specially appointed 2009 Ford Flex, an original Hatch Show Print monoprint, and vacation packages at a private island resort, the CMA and ACM award shows, and the TV taping of the upcoming CMT Giants special honoring Alan Jackson. Professional auctioneer Donna Anderson directed the proceedings, with help from Jarecki, Ross and Nashville businesswoman Laura Stroud.

The donations will support the preservation of the Museum’s unduplicated collection, which is considered the finest of its kind in the world, as well as the organization’s efforts to make the collection available to the largest possible audience through exhibits, school and family programs, books and recordings.

“The welcome and glorious vocation of each member of our board and staff," Young said, "is to save the storytelling songs of the American people, the citizens who represent the culture of country music. In doing so, we record American history, we help safeguard our nation’s memory and we preserve a shared heritage.”

After a lively cocktail reception, where old friends from New York and Nashville greeted each other and new friendships were formed, the guests moved into the intimate Nokia Theatre, elegantly appointed for the evening.

Thornton opened the evening with a drum solo. His two fellow Boxmasters and  supporting musicians took the stage one at a time, picking up their instruments and joining Thornton in a rocking instrumental. The Oscar-winning film star then took the microphone for a romp through “That Mountain,” a song he co-wrote with Marty Stuart from the Boxmasters' new, self-titled album.

Speaking to the gathering, Thornton explained why the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum would host a benefit event in New York. “Here’s the deal,” Thornton said. “The people in New York appreciate country music. This is a hip place. They know what we’re doing. It’s not a mystery why it’s here.”

Thornton and bandmates J.D. Andrew and Michael Butler introduced Jerry Douglas, with Thornton joking that he’d been giving Douglas Dobro lessons since 1947. Douglas then played a medley of instrumentals that drew on the different sounds and influences of country music, getting a loud ovation as he finished.

Gill thanked Thornton for his involvement and noted that Thornton has been a longtime supporter and fan of country music. He then talked to the crowd about the rest of the evening’s entertainment. “Considering who I get to share the stage here with tonight, I’m kind of the punk kid,” said Gill, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Gill acknowledged meeting Douglas at age 17 on the bluegrass circuit and expressed his admiration for Campbell’s production and instrumental work.

Speaking about the night’s other guests, Gill began with Crowell, saying, “The Country Music Hall of Fame has several songwriters in it, like Harlan Howard and Cindy Walker and the Bryants (Felice and Boudleaux), who have written some of the greatest songs in history. The man we have with us here tonight is, to me, on par with all those. I think he’s the greatest modern-day songwriter we have.”

Introducing Country Music Hall of Fame member Harris, Gill called her, “My favorite, and probably the person who influenced me more than anybody. As a young kid, I heard her sing, and I found her first record, and I finally heard something that said to me, ‘That’s something I can hear myself doing.’ As a young kid, to finally have some direction was life-changing.”

For Helm, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Gill said he let out “the biggest cheer you can ever imagine” when he heard the longtime member of The Band would be joining the evening’s guitar pull. “I think he possesses maybe the greatest voice in America’s music. The music he made with The Band is arguably the best music America ever put out.”

For her performances, Harris leaned on recent material she’d written. Explaining that for most of her career she relied primarily on interpreting great songs by other writers, she accepted a challenge from songwriter Guy Clark in the late 1990s to start writing more of her own material. Her selections included “Red Dirt Girl,” “How She Could Sing the Wildwood Flower,” “The Pearl” and “Tragedy,” all songs she wrote or co-wrote.  She invited Gill to join her in a duet of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.”

Helm performed traditional songs, including the Stanley Brothers’ “White Dove,” and some classics from The Band, including “Rag Mama Rag” and a duet with Harris on “Evangeline.” Crowell concentrated mostly on recent songs of a personal and spiritual nature, including “The Houston Kid,” “Still Learning How to Fly,” and “Closer to Heaven.”  He also did “Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper’s Dream),” a 1984 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band hit that Crowell wrote and recently recorded with Douglas. Like the others, Gill concentrated on personal songs instead of well-known hits, performing “Young Man’s Town” and “The Key to Life,” and two new songs, “Bread and Water” and “Lucky Diamond Motel.”

“We like songs that will kill you,” Harris quipped at one point about the choice of material. “Tonight you’re hearing the blues, because that’s the kinds of songs we love.”