I wrote this the morning of March 20th, upon returning home from the Scotty Hard Benefit that I help put together at Highline Ballroom. I would have published it then, but I was too lazy to set up links at 5 in the morning. So without further ado, here's my thoughts on one of the best musical nights of my life, basically unedited from what I wrote that night.
I'm too wound up to sleep just yet, still basking in the glow of a nearly perfect night. I don't even know where to start. I mean, what feels better: Putting on a successful show for a beautiful cause, or seeing most of your friends creating that show or enjoying that show, or creating or enjoying that show yourself. I got all of that tonight, and more. I was gonna say something from the stage, but I'm not really an on stage talking kind of guy. Plus, the musical statement was emphatically made, I could add nothing until now.
I need to offer so much gratitude to so many people. My crew, god, I came three people from my ultimate dream team. Liz Penta, Ina Jacobs, Jay Bau, Amy Davidson, Jon Dindas, Randy Taber, Chip Auchencloss, Bobby Haight, Bill Mulvey, Dave Campaniello, Gaby Kerson. Ina & Liz used to book CBs313 back in the 90's, where they met MMW. Ina taught Amy how to tour manage. Amy taught me. I taught Chip & Gaby. Randy taught me to mix. Bill & I have been recording bands for years. They worked their asses off for me today, for Scotty, and the show went off so smoothly because of them. Dave had a gig this morning at 4am. He didn't sleep, but came straight to Highline to work. Bobby & Chip drove nearly 300 miles yesterday to get backline. Bobby & Bill and Jon and I started at 8:30 am today & finished at 4. Chip went to his paid gig at 9am, put in 12 hrs there, then came to Highline and gave me another 7. Dindas is swamped running the show at Greenapple. He took the whole day and gave it to me. Gaby is becoming the female version of another protogige of mine, Bryan Aiello. I think of something, and she's already getting it done. They were all selfless, professional, giving and perfect and I couldn't have done it without them.
The Venue. Adam & Ron & Mike and the Highline gave so much. I've often said that The Highline is a great place to see a show, but a hard place to do a show. The parking sucks, the load in is tough, with one tiny elevator to get gear upstairs, and the size of the dressing rooms makes my apt look like a Malibu estate. However, with that said, they were perfect tonight. I called them 5 minutes after I got the idea to do the show, and 5 minutes later, they were fully on board. They donated staff, the room, 100% of the gross to the cause. They did EVERYTHING I asked of them, got their vendors to donate hospitality, feed us all catering, & packed the room. We sold 801 tickets in a 700 cap venue, and every cent after my minimal expenses went to Scotty. We raised over $30000 tonight. That's amazing!
The Musicians: Again, where to start? In Feb, when I came up with the idea, I just started calling the musicians in my phone. Almost to a man, nearly everyone said yes almost immediately. I had Medeski, Martin, Kraz, Neal, Marco, Joe, Tommy, Kevin, Steven Bernstein, Logic, John Ellis and Vernon within hrs of the idea. They called the musicians in their phones and the line up gelled perfectly. Cats were coming out of the woodwork. Roswell Rudd, Casey Benjamin, DJ Olive, Ben Perowski, guys I hadn't even considered, made surprise appearances. Guys I worked with but haven't seen in years like Leon Gruenbaum, Briggan Krauss, Dennis Diamond, lent an hand. Medeski got Sco & Laswell, and there you have it. Vernon called Nikki Galspie to play drums today, and she didn't hesitate. Everyone on that stage gave selflessly of themselves.
And then there's the show: I thought the performances ranged from great to outstanding to perfect to epic. Vernon sounded better than I've ever heard him, all tone and spaciousness and understatement, with none of the volume that sometimes undermines his work to my ears. The Logic, Sco & Medeski sit in during his set provided my first "wow" moment, and thankfully, it was the first of many. And speaking of Vernon, can anyone think of a more eloquent speaker to open the proceedings? His comments to start the night came from his soul, and his soul is pure and true and passionate and heartfelt. I thought he delivered brilliantly. I wanted to open poignantly, and Vernon provided the perfect vehicle.
Medeski, Sco, Martin & Rivard continued the trend, with Medeski percolating and Sco burning. Billy always sounds great, with perfect touch and control driving his playing, and while Rivard is no Chris Wood, he came prepared, and filled some big shoes with grace and talent. MOD went from being a bit of a pain in my ass to the perfect choice for act three as soon as they took the stage. Dark and psychedelic, I really dug their set, especially with Bernie funking it up. Ben Perowsky swung his ass off during the Ellington tunes that followed, and I loved that they played Scotty's arrangements. To have Brian Harding, Scotty's brother follow the music with his comments added even more urgency to the specialness of the moment.
I thought the Big Yes mini set also came off well, especially with the charts that Kevin wrote for Bernstein & the horns. Vijay's trio came to me as an unknown quantity, and left me a fan. I though Liberty Ellman on guitar gave Sco a run for his money. And then the maestro, Bernstein & Sex Mob. Flat out, I think the guy's a genius. He hears things that I can't comprehend, but once they get played, it makes perfect sense. While we're on the subject of perfect sense, let's consider Tommy's decision to have Jonathan Goldberger play pedal steel with him and Joe. I love the American Babies tunes already, but the stripped down setting and poignant steel weeping underneath kept me extra engaged.
Prior to Russo & Hamilton's Indigo Boys rendition, we played Scotty's message. At first I wasn't sure where the video was going, but once he spoke, I'm so glad we worked it in as an interlude. I can't imagine what his experience feels like, to have gone through what he's gone through, and I hope I don't ever learn. Andy from Ropeadope went and saw him today, and he couldn't express how much the events of tonight raised his spirits. I didn't know the extent of it until I heard him speak on that dvd tonight. Can you fathom what its like to be in his position and find hope and honor? It means so much to me that I got to play a role in providing him with those feelings, but I can guarantee you that what happened at Highline tonight meant a million times more to him than to anyone. "Beauty is not truth. Truth is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best."
Maybe by that point I felt like fate allowed me a little self indulgence. Whether it did or didn't, I got it. (And even if I didn't, the next few paragraphs are self indulgent enough.) Most everyone knows my history with Soulive and the Duo, and I'm not saying I planned exactly what went down, but I'm not saying I didn't either. Kraz & Marco & Neal sort of set it up, and I just sort of nudged it along. Neal had expressed to me that he wanted to play with Marco again in January, and Kraz has a gig with the Duo at Jazzfest. Who am I not to encourage such collaborations? Obviously, Aaron & Jake deserve full credit for creating Bustle, but I'll take full credit for Soulive's affinity for the Zep. Back in February '06, we had just come off the Dave Matthews cruise, and were touring in Florida. I had been trying to to get Soulive to play some Zeppelin for a while, but Neal wasn't into it. Knowing what I know, that the music that musicians listen to during the course of a day influences their playing that night, I just started playing a lot of Zeppelin around them.
We found ourselves at Freebird Cafe in Jacksonville, and as usual, Neal started sound check on Alan's drums. Our guitar tech Mikey was on stage getting Kraz's gear ready, and he started fooling around with the riff to The Ocean. Rather than vibing him out of it, Neal joined in, naturally demonstrating the near universal love we all share for Bonham. Sensing my in, I literally ran backstage and printed the lyrics for Reggie Watts. Kraz was always down for Led Zep, having already covered Out on the Tiles with his solo band in December & January just passed. Somehow, fate took my side: we got in early, and set up early, giving us enough time to turn a sound check into a rehearsal. With a little encouragement, and a little prodding, they began to tackle The Ocean. We played the tune through the stage monitors via Ipod, and the band worked at learning the song. It went from rough sketch to refined show stopper that day, and they played it live as their encore that night.
While Reggie never embraced the tune enough to learn the lyrics, instead relying on a cheat sheet taped to the stage, Soulive continued to play the shit out of it. When we were in FL, I knew that the Duo was slated to open for Soulive at UPenn in March. I rejoiced in the knowledge that I could get the bands together via Led Zeppelin, and we pulled it off twice. In Philly, Marco sat in with Soulive on Wurli for the Ocean, and a month later, in Northampton, the Duo played their own show downstairs at Pearl Street, presenting me with another opportunity. This time Alan started the tune, again with Marco on Wurli, and then yielded his kit to Joe to finish it. At that point, I knew I wanted to find a night that allowed all of them to play it. Tonight, we had enough backline to do just that.
Getting Deitch and Russo together at once again demonstrates how lucky I am, and I think tonight's results justify that notion. Alan couldn't make the benefit, although he was generous enough to donate his drums. Deitch was unavailable until Monday, when his schedule suddenly freed him up to play. The way it all happened at the Highline ended up giving me everything I wanted, and in a way that I feel like I might not even deserve. So many things linked to those two songs, and so much went just exactly perfectly to set it up. Russo wanted to do a Duo tune before the collaboration, and when Deitch became available, Kraz started thinking the same thing about him and Neal with Deitch. For me, it all added up to perfect. And perfect in this case was epic.
In my own head space, the set up is brilliant. Here we have two bands that I love, two bands that I identified at different times as my favorite bands playing. Not only did I get to work for both of them, but they became my friends. I plan Russo's birthdays, I cooked a sick dinner at Neal's last week (Proscuitto wrapped home made potato chips as an appetizer style), they're my boys. Sometimes we work together, sometimes we don't, but nothing changes who we are to one another. That alone feels beyond special. Tonight, everything played into my hands. We got Soulive (SoulDeitch anyway,) playing a Soulive tune. Then we got the Duo, augmented by Tommy as a mirror image, playing a Duo tune. And then, as if it was first a street fight, with both bands seeking supremacy, the two entities realized that they could not defeat each other. Instead, by joining forces, they could exceed the sum of their parts, and become a super band, melded into existence by the power of the mighty Zeppelin.
At that moment, with all of my hyperbole aside, I felt perfect. Standing in the middle of that power, watching my friends light up a room filled with my friends, all gathered to help a person in need, I felt blessed. Not just self aware blessed, as in "I'm so lucky to be here NOW," but ultra blessed, like "I'll never forget this event as LONG AS I LIVE!" I walked out into the room and shared it with Nicole, and then I went back up on stage and watched Deitch and Russo dig in, two of my favorite drummers, passing perfection back and forth. As far as I know, nothing on earth compares to that feeling. That moment required all 800+ people that filled that room, it required every occurrence in the preceding paragraphs to go exactly right. It required my crew, and that venue, and all of those musicians and all my friends. It even, worst of all, required Scotty's accident to happen. And if something so terrible must occur, I can only take solace in my own journey through life because I know for sure that sometimes tragedy can create magic. Maybe, just maybe, that magic is so powerful that it can overcome that tragedy, even just for a moment. Because of tonight, no matter what happens to any of us, I know in my heart that it can.
We all live and we all die. We bury our family and we bear our children. We grow, and we fail, we take pride and we feel regret. And every once in a while, we get a night like my higher power granted me tonight. I started with a cause, and it grew as skill and determination nurtured its seed. Poking through the earth, consoled with heartfelt words and compassion, maybe it decided to make a go at it. Rarely, those times actually flourish, and even rarer still, maybe that moment bears fruit. Tonight on that stage, I bit into the most succulent fruit life has to offer. Thank you all for helping me grow a tiny fragile seed into that magnificent experience. To taste it was both a humbling and deserved experience. To taste it required so many of us to give, and rest assured, I can only hold it in my heart as one of the greatest gifts I've ever received. Thank you.