I drove to Memphis on Friday to rehearse for the Big Star Tribute Concert at the Levitt Bandshell on Saturday May 16. Its an easy 3 hour drive (if I can go 70 + the whole way) from Nashville. Got to the hotel in just enough time to check in and gather my guitar for the rehearsal. Jody Stephens met me and Brendan Benson (and wife Britt and 3 week old baby Declan!) to drive over to the private house we'd be rehearsing in. A beautiful house with a private studio in the back, the owners were kind enough to lay a spread of food out for all of us as we arrived. Jon and Ken of The Posies came, Rick Steff (of Lucero) was there, Van Duren came in. We ran through the songs we were all going to do, drank wine, ate barbecue, got to know each other a bit more, and then went back to the hotel to crash. I stayed up a bit too late writing, as just being with all those musicians inspired me, so getting up to run was hard, but I squeezed in a 3 mile run before meeting everyone at Ardent Studios for the run through there. I walked in partway through the rehearsal to cameras and film crew, lights and sound, all sorts of people...gotta say it was a bit mind-blowing. I saw John Fry, the owner of Ardent, whom I'd met a few years prior when I was doing a "Live At Ardent" show. Was tickled to see Sondre Lerche through some glass walls, pacing the halls with a J-45, running through "I'm In Love With A Girl". Saw Mike Mills at the coffee area, we exchanged hugs. Met Susan Marshall, who I'd heard about but hadn't met yet. She was super nice and said she'd heard great things about me through Sid Selvidge and heard our record. I didn't get a chance to run through "Try Again" but I wasn't worried--it was a really spare arrangement. Although I waved at Ken and Jon and Jody and they said, "Can you do the harmonies to 'Thank You Friends'?" and, without really knowing the song well, I said, "yes" and ran to the hallway and praised god I had the song on my I Phone. Learned the harmonies in about a minute, and was led into the studio with Susan to be the "doot doo" girls, which is always a blast (my next band: I just wanna sing backup and shake a tambourine and let someone else sing lead). I was singing harmonies with Jon and Jody on "Give Me Another Chance" as well. There was so much going on it was a bit overwhelming, between the amazing music, the star power and the cameras, that I found myself just hanging with Brendan who I'd hit it off with the night before, and I followed him into Studio C, where there were more cameras. They'd put up the original Big Star trax on the console and sat Brendan and I down, put mics on us, and we were able to listen to the original masters of "Radio City" and solo up tracks. We were obsessed with the background vocals, the handclaps and the sound of the overhead drum mics. The documentary folks were asking Brendan "Do you hear anything inspiring or new in there?" hoping for some educated rockstar answer. I liked Brendan even more when he simply said nothing, jaw agape, just said "Its just...amazing...I can't believe I'm listening to this..." And as the cameras shut down he leaned into me like a confession and said, "I'd really like to take this shit home and just sit in my room in the dark and quietly listen. I don't want to commentate." I wholeheartedly agreed, feeling like anything I'd say would just sound stupid.
Then we all got to the bandshell for a quick soundcheck. Backstage was decked out with Rendevous bbq--ribs, sausage, pulled pork, baked beans, greens, rice, it was incredible. Wine and beer and soda and whatever we wanted back there. Jon Davis of Superdrag showed up and soundchecked with the band. Sondre kept walking up the hill to hear the sound from the house. Mike Mills was listening from stage left. I was wandering around, just taking it all in. The crew was getting worried as there was a storm brewing, so the opening band's set got cut to only 2 songs and then they projected a film on the side of the bandshell of what I'm assuming was Big Star from the 70s (maybe 60s?), a black & white movie of Alex Chilton singing. And as that movie faded, Jody Stephens, Jon Auer, Ken Stringfellow took the stage with "Back of A Car. Jon Davis started the night out with a loud HOWL, tearing through 3 songs, blindsiding me with pure rockstar energy, very different from the mild and sweet man who I'd met a few moments before.
Here's the rest from Ken Stringfellow's blog, because he said it better:
Next Jon (Auer) led the three piece on “I am the Cosmos” playing Chris Bell’s Gibson 335. Jody sang ‘Way Out West’ and I thought…last time to play this amazing bass line. Van Duren howled (wonderfully) thru ‘Mod Lang’, which we’d never played live before. My version of ‘Daisy Glaze’ was very well received. Mr. Mills came out for ‘Jesus Christ’. Jody’s brother Jimmy came out to play his awesome Fender bass on ‘For You’–in fact, it’s Jimmy who played on the original version. I played Chris Bell’s vintage Gibson J45 acoustic. Jimmy had offered to let me use his precious instrument for the rest of the show, so I used it on a never-before-done-live version of ‘Give Me Another Chance’–me on bass and singing, Jon on guitar and BVs, Amy Speace and Jody also on BVs. By the end of the song, the rain had started to pour. I quickly ran back to the wings to give Jimmy his bass back and took the rental out. We huddled and Jon wondered if we should skip ‘Lady Sweet’ but I said, no–skip nothing. I asked the crowd if they were ok, and if we should skip any songs…YES and NO were the resounding responses. So, we brought out Rick Steff to play accordion on ‘Lady Sweet’, great version. Then Sondre came out to play a solo version of ‘I’m in Love With A Girl’ (Brendan Benson came out and held an umbrella over his head), and then Sondre sang ‘Ballad of El Goodo’ with us, both excellent. A sad but sweet version of ‘Thirteen’. I rocked out ‘Feel’. Mills came out, with Susan Marshall and Amy Speace (the Dut-Do-ettes) to do ‘Thank You Friends’. Then, Jon, Susan and I did a spooky version of ‘Nightime’. Jon, Amy & I did our almost bluegrass harmony ‘Try Again’. The set closed out with Brendan Benson on guitar fronting us for awesome versions of ‘O My Soul’ and ‘September Gurls’–of course, Mills and Sondre and more came out to sing BVs. End of set.
The whole thing was incredible. There was such an amazing sense of camraderie, no nerves, no one upstaging anyone, anytime someone came offstage the rest of the gang were there, watching from the wings, to high five and backslap and "rock on man!" each other. It just was an incredible show. The crowd never left. As I sang "Try Again" the rain fell steadily and it was perfect. At one point, while Jon was taking his guitar solo and I was over with Ken, playing to each other, I raised my face to the sky to feel the wet on my face, just amazed that I was there, in that space, in that sky, joyous. Later, the best moment of the night came for me when Chris Bell's brother David came to me, introducing himself with tears in his eyes, hugged me and thanked me for singing "Try Again" saying that he loved that song of his brothers and that I made his late brother proud with my rendition. I was speechless.
Brendan and Sondre and I (and Brendan's manager Emily) were tired and chose to not go to the late-night hang at Ardent, but instead went back to the hotel, finagled a few bottles of red from the bartender, and sat up till the wee hours having a nice, quiet, intimate hang, where we talked about music and A Ha and what's real and what's not and it just felt like the perfect coda to a perfect day with perfect music in this imperfect lovely lovely world where you meet your heros and they invite you to dance with them.