Live Review

Food as Medicine, Music as a Balm

Love Rocks NYC on March 15, 2018

Love Rock NYC at the Beacon

Have you seen dignity?

These days, we know where not to look for it. But it was there, so very much there, at the filled-to-capacity Beacon Theater on March 15 for the second annual Love Rocks NYC to benefit God's Love We Deliver.  

What to do if you need to prepare and deliver over 1.8 million meals this year, free of charge, to thousands of home-bound New Yorkers (including those in parts of New Jersey, Westchester, and Nassau counties), most below the poverty line, who are too frail to shop and cook for themselves?

You secure the participation of music icons and others with hearts as fiercely generous as their talents for a marathon concert (pee at your own peril – there is no intermission over the course of four hours) at a golden, jazz-age New York moving-picture-palace-turned-music landmark.

As they did last year, fashion designer and philanthropist John Varvatos and Douglas Elliman realtor and God’s Love We Deliver trustee Greg Williamson presented Love Rocks NYC. The concert raised over $2 million to support God’s Love’s core programs.

Dozens of artists — from rock to reggae, funk, jazz, blues, and soul — lent their talents. Bassist Will Lee returned to direct the Love Rocks NYC! House Band, which worked in beautiful sync with the God’s Love Horns and We Deliver Singers. Hosts were Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Murray, and Kevin Bacon.

Bookended by opener Trombone Shorty with Ivan Neville and closer Ziggy Marley (in a set that included an all-in finale), the stellar lineup included Norah Jones, Keith Richards, Emmylou Harris, Donald Fagen, Billy F. Gibbons, Warren Haynes, Gary Clark Jr., Mavis Staples, Andra Day, Marc Cohn, Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm/Steve Jordan, Lucinda Williams, Patty Smyth, Anthony Hamilton, The Bacon Bros., Ann Wilson, Jimmie Vaughan, Valerie Simpson, Bernie Williams, Nona Hendryx, David Hidalgo, John McEnroe, Doyle Bramhall II, Jimmy Vivino, Amy Helm, Allen Stone, Tash Neal, and Mike Flanigin. (I counted at least seven septuagenarians: When I grow up, I want to be Nona Hendryx and Mavis Staples — combined.)

As much as we delivered our love to the house band, singers and horn section, replete with returnees from last year, it couldn’t have been adequate. Please take note of who they were.

The performances ranged from febrile cris de coeur to tunes familiar and comforting to just plain fun. A few sets nearly stopped your heart; some almost stopped time (bringing to mind the seminal artists we’ve lost in just a handful of years).Herewith, some highlights:

Opening: Trombone Shorty, Ivan Neville ignite “Fire on the Bayou.”

Nona Hendryx, formerly of LaBelle, vamping it up with Allen Stone on “Take Me to the River.” What the video doesn’t do justice to: the faces of guitarist Larry Campbell and Tedeschi Trucks vocalists Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour. As much fun as everyone was having, they were having even more.

Warren Haynes, an alum of the Allman Brothers (and now fronting Gov’t Mule), referred to the Beacon as his “home away from home.” For decades, in the month of March, the Allmans would occupy the Beacon (except 2010). They dissolved the band in 2014, after what was reported to have been their 238th sold-out show. In 2017, in dizzying succession, we lost ABB founders Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman.

Haynes did a virtuosic, full-throated-rasp cover of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” He then tuned up for “Melissa,” with house guitarists Larry Campbell, Eric Krasno and Will Lee, closing with a lovely and succinct infusion of the Allman’s epic instrumental, “Mountain Jam.”

In the final moments of his set, he and his guitar met up with the light that was in between and over the heads of Krasno and Lee. The video doesn’t do it justice, but from where I was sitting the effect dazzled, nearly blinded you: as if all the unstoppable energy from all the ABB members who’d gone far too soon reassembled, just to check in with you – because, after all, it was that time of year. Almost made you want to sing out, “Please Call Home!”

Gary Clark Jr. persevered with a badly fractured wrist. He’s a Guitar God, and he’s everyone’s hero.

David Hidalgo (with Doyle Bramhall II and Tash Neal): “Presence of the Lord.” Oh, indeed.

Donald Fagen (with Steve Gadd, house band drummer, who worked with Steely Dan on the recording of “Aja”) looks as if he’s at the controls of a space craft and will take off any minute (with Will Lee in tow).

“Reelin’ in the Years” (with stand-out Eric Krasno).


Keith Richards: He's a grandfather, patriarch of a significant brood, and I want him at my Passover Seder.  “Make No Mistake” (with Norah Jones, Robert Cray/Steve Jordan).

Rolling out a rollicking “Happy,” and getting closer to the audience.

Lucinda Williams: “We’ve Come Too Far to Turn Around”

Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris: “When Will I be Loved”

Mavis Staples, Amy Helm, Donald Fagen, Jimmy Vivino, Larry Campbell, Marc Cohn, and Steve Jordan perform “The Weight.” Veterans of Midnight Rambles held at Levon Helm’s Woodstock Studio, they dedicated the number to him.

Robert Cray: “You Must Believe in Yourself”

Mavis Staples: American Treasure.
Long ago, story has it, Bob Dylan proposed to her; now Bill Murray is claiming she’s his fiancée.
“Respect Yourself”

The Bacon Brothers with a really solid cover of “The Last Time.” Artists participating in Love Rocks NYC are probably separated by far less than six degrees — two or three at most. Now, Kevin Bacon is right there in the middle. 

Ann Wilson, in addition to belting out Heart’s “Barracuda,” covered “The Immigrant Song.” She’s been singing the Led Zeppelin tune for years; in the current political climate, it takes on new meaning. Her voice is robust, in fine fettle.

Jimmie Vaughan: “Pride and Joy” (with Billy F. Gibbons, Gary Clark Jr. and Doyle Bramhall II)

Billy F. Gibbons (with John McEnroe) is a “Sharp Dressed Man.”
The sartorially singular Billy F. Gibbons is a class act. He shimmered and glimmered and shone. I thought there were sparklers in his beard, but it was just the rest of him that was atwinkle.

“Credit cards are for losers.” Nonprofit Fundraisers and Development Officers Take Note! Bill Murray, Gift Solicitor General, works the Beacon.

All: “One Love” as led by Ziggy Marley, to close out the night, in the early morning.

As was the case last year, organizational mission — here nothing less than keeping people alive — was never far from the lips of performers. So, a little bit more about God’s Love feels more right than wrong.

Now in their 33rd year, God’s Love has to date prepared and delivered over 20 million meals to our neighbors in need, those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart failure, and 200 other serious illnesses.

Operating in all five boroughs of New York City, and several surrounding counties, with an annual volunteer corps numbering 10,000, their services are not only free of charge to clients, but also to their dependent children and the senior caregivers of senior clients. They have never maintained a waiting list; meals, which are prepared to meet individual medical needs, are delivered within a day or two of contact.

Demand for their services has grown at a pace of 150% in the last ten years. With current trends not likely to change, more of us will be aging in our homes, and more of us will live there with long- and short-term illnesses. Every $10 funds one nutritious meal for a client.

So, circling back to where this started — dignity, that is — if you are at a loss to find some, and you couldn’t make it to the Beacon, click here.

By the time the concert had concluded, well over 50 distinguished guests had graced that stage. If the great gifts of some, on the one hand, have technically softened, they have, on the other hand, quintessentially, profoundly deepened at the heart's core.  I suspect the eyes/ears of the beholder are part of this equation. I felt enormous gratitude just to be there.

At about 12:30 a.m., as the audience collected themselves to file out of the Beacon (or make a run to the bathrooms), the Love Rocks NYC 2018 company was assembling on the stage for photos. Around my star-addled brain kept swirling the assertion made by Bunny Flingus, a character in “The House of Blue Leaves,” John Guare’s play about the power of fame, especially on those of us who will never know it, not to mention what self-delusional fools we yearning mortals be: “When famous people go to sleep at night, it’s us they dream of, Artie. The famous ones — they’re the real people. We’re the creatures of their dreams. You’re the dream. I’m the dream.”

Set list: