Friday, March 11, 2011

Tucson's Concert for the Ages: Coming Together For Love

Two months ago the city of Tucson made international news for the horrific shootings at a local supermarket on Jan. 8, but on the night of March 10 a remarkable concert was held to raise money for the "Fund for Civility, Respect, and Understanding"--a community response to the disaster which will help victims and also support programs like anti-bullying initiatives in schools. Here are some snapshots from the evening:

I got there a little late just in time for the final song by Joel Rafael, who is known as an interpreter of Woody Guthrie's words and music.  His back-up singers: Graham Nash and David Crosby.

Every act played a set of three songs. A great "house band" of studio musicians backed up most performers. I would be content to hear a solo concert by these guys anytime.

With the exception of Alice Cooper and Jackson Browne, I had never seen any of the other performers--they were all incredible: Sam Moore---who Rolling Stone magazine called one of the 100 greatest singers of the rock era; blues singer Keb' Mo'; Nils Lofgren--lead guitarist for the E Street Band;  Dar Williams-- awesome folk rock ; Jerry Riopelle-- my kind of hard rocker ("The Thrill Is Gone").  Jackson Browne and Crosby, Nash backed up some of these artists.

Jennifer Warnes, who had the big hit "The Time of My Life" from the film Dirty Dancing, sang Amazing Grace acapella. You could hear a pin drop in the Tucson Convention Center arena.

The Tucson-based band, Calexico, played a high energy set backed up by Tucson's Salvador Duran and an entire mariachi group. They were followed by the also amazing group Ozomatli, who belted out one of the greatest hip-hop songs I've ever heard. Both bands had fabulous horn sections. Ozomatli ended their boycott of Arizona (over the state's harsh anti-immigrant laws) to come play at this event.

Everyone had come on short notice to play for free. Local folks and businesses were thanked for all the free services and support they provided the concert.

Many people spoke between acts including: Emily Nottingham, mother of shooting victim Gabe Zimmerman, and Ron Barber, who was severely wounded and came up with the idea for the Fund and concert while he was recovering in the hospital.

Video clip appearances included Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, who also played a little on his banjo.

Promoter Danny Zelisko served at times as the MC, along with Alice Cooper and Jackson Browne, thanking many. Zelisko recognized Tucson folksinger Ted Warmbrand, "who was instrumental in making this happen.  He put in the call to Jackson."

The concert started at 6 p.m.--around 9:30 p.m. the final headlining acts began with Graham Nash and David Crosby. They started with Graham Nash's song "In Your Name,"--"Lord are you listening to a prayer from a simple man? Can you stop all the sadness. Can you stop all of this madness? Can you stop all of this killing in your name?" Their next number was the hauntingly beautiful "Guinnevere" which was dedicated to the Green family who lost  nine-year-old Cristina on Jan. 8. Then David Crosby slung an electric guitar over his shoulder, "Sometimes I get possessed, and have to rock!"----"Long Time Gone" brought down the house.

Jackson Browne followed, leading off with "Doctor My Eyes." His second song was the wonderful "I am a Patriot"("and the river opens for the righteous") during which his back-up singers, two young African-Americans Alithia Mills and Yvonne Stewart, were show stoppers with their stunning vocal solo. I last saw Browne play in El Paso in the mid-90s, a benefit concert for anti-nuclear groups.

The final act was Arizona's own Alice Cooper. No make-up or gimmicks. He requested everyone sing along with his songs--"If you don't know the words, you didn't go to high school!" He led off with "Eighteen," followed by "Telephone Is Ringing," then "School's Out." It was mentioned that Cooper last played Tucson in 1973 to open his "Billion Dollar Babies" tour. That was the year I saw him play in N.C.---38 years ago and he's still going strong. Cooper said it would be good to do this concert yearly--to keep spreading civility.

Everyone, including Ron Barber's family and other community folks, came on stage for one final number, "Teach Your Children," with many holding song sheets with the words.  Then Graham Nash said, "We'll see you next year. We wish you peace," and we began filing out into the night, as the arena's sound system played the Woody Guthrie song, "This Land Is Your Land."

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