By Steven Gaydos
When mega-artists of the cross-generational stature of Taylor Swift and Robert Plant get together for a common cause, you can assume two things: there’s a great need and there’s a hell of a lot of collaborative efforts that go into making their musical contributions look natural and effortless. The great need, in this case, is still catastrophic after-effects of the disastrous Spring flooding that wreaked havoc on America’s beloved “Music City,” aka Nashville, Tennessee. The collaboration came courtesy of a wide range of music business leaders and companies, including AEG’s Tim Leiweke, CAA’s Rod Essig, record producer Tony Brown, Orly Adelson of Dick Clark Productions, Loeb and Loeb’s John Frankenheimer, 821 Entertainment’s Anastasia Brown, as well as Columbia Records, Gibson Guitars, BMI and many others.
The Robert Plant contribution (under the pseudonym Byron House) happened as part of white gospel soulster Mike Farris’s benefit six-song EP, “The Night The Cumberland Came Alive,” which brews up Farris’s trademark evangelical rock n’ roll and includes the former Led Zepster’s contributions as well as funky work from key members of Farris’s Roseland Rhythm Revue, including a sizzling McCrary Sisters. Farris was deep into production on his new album and as he recounts, “then the flood came and we decided that we should really focus our energy on helping our community.”
There’s a natural link from that CD project and the ambitious and inspiring presentation called “All for the Hall,” a benefit for Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame that filled L.A. Live’s Club Nokia Se with the sounds of country music legends on stage and screaming Taylor Swift fans in the balcony. On stage in a “guitar pull,” where four stools, four guitars, four singer-songwriters and pop-soul maestro Lionel Richie on piano were simply staged to offer what is at the heart of heartland music: words and feelings. Emmy Lou Harris, Vince Gill, Kris Kristofferson and Ms. Swift took several turns in the spotlight where a hushed crowd heard personal renditions of everything from Swift’s touching ode to her mother, “The Best Day,” to “Red Words,” Gill’s newly crafted paean to his wife, gospel superstar Amy Grant.
Kristofferson brought new life to those self-penned ’60s classics such “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night” that put in the Country Music Hall of Fame Emmy Lou enchanted with her interpretations of her own songs as well as timeless classics like the Louvin Brothers “If I Could Only Win Your Love.”
It was Ms. Harris who sang movingly of the plight the homeless in Nashville and elsewhere, cause also at the heart of Mike Farris’s EP.
There was a nice moment when a slightly tongue-tied Swift tried to explain how falling in love, with all its cuts and bruises, drove her to write songs and she continually hoped for a more peaceful relationship. Harris quickly opined “It will never change” drawing a big laugh from the crowd while underling the very human, intimate nature of the camaraderie on stage. At times Swift seemed completely absorbed in the talents of the giants surrounding her and they all seemed energized by her octane performance. It was competition at its musical best.
Richie proved what Ray Charles proved 50 years ago: country and soul are meaningless words when you are trying to describe the lyricism and melodic genius of the great songs and he delivered his own with vibrancy and intimacy in the form of his back catalogue gems such as “Easy” and “Stuck on You.”
The bonus for local music fans, as if all of that weren’t enough, was the announcement that the next major exhibit to be presented at the Country Music Hall of Fame will be “Under Your Spell Again: West Coast Country Music.” Left coast fans of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart and countless other acts who recorded from Hollywood to Bakersfield and who revolutionized American music will have a reason to visit Nashville in 2012.
The music on offer at Club Nokia Thursday night made it clear that visiting Music City tomorrow wouldn’t be too soon and the songsmiths are there ready and waiting with the welcome mat out and the guitars in tune.