Michael Dorf’s 18th “Music Of” benefit, “The Music of Paul McCartney,” hit the just the right note for the under-served youth who will now get a music education. A gathering of spectacular talents raised essential funds to create musical opportunities for many, many young people. McCartney, on vacation in star-soaked St. Barth’s, sent a note of appreciation to Dorf, the charity, the performers.
Bob Dylan has called Paul McCartney awesome for his songwriting, ability to play a wide array of instruments, and his nonstop output of music people love. Tonight, one performer after another showed the range of his songwriting and brought new feelings from it at the same time.
With some twenty three performances, it pains me that I lack the space to do them all justice. Here are a few of the highlights. Let me start by saying that the back-up band, led by David Letterman Show guitarist, Will Lee, was outstanding all night. It included a valuable small string section.
Early in the show, the great Peter Asher engage the crowd with a bit of the backstory of his hit song, “A World Without Love,” with the late Gordon Waller when they were Peter & Gordon. McCartney, whose girlfriend in the early 60s was Peter’s sister, Jane Asher, was staying in the Ashers’ London house so Peter knew Paul had written this song. Paul couldn’t convince John Lennon it was worth putting on a Beatles album. Tongue in cheek, John said he’d lock Paul away if he kept bothering him about it. They gave Peter permission to use it and it became a massive hit, launching Peter & Gordon’s career. Asher went on to become a producer who shaped the careers of many famous artists including James Taylor and, Linda Ronstadt.
The great Patti Smith performed a very personal version of “She’s Leaving Home” that closed with her own poetic addition that ended with the statement that she was leaving home to find herself.
Sammy Rae gave us a “Heart of the Country” with some dazzling jazz riffs supported by electric ukuleles, which she’s known for playing.
Christopher Cross began by mentioning that the last time he had performed at Carnegie Hall was a tribute to Dudley Moore. He felt the desire to connect the dots so he dedicated his rendition of “Mother Nature’s Son” to Dudley. He brought a memorable earthiness to the song.
That was followed by Denny Laine leading a trio that included Chris and the wonderful Nancy Wilson of Heart fame. They sang Paul’s Scottish “Mull of Kintyre,” which, as it had too, featured the iconic sounding bagpipes.
Canadian, singer-songwriter Allison Russell offered her unique take on Paul’s song, “Blackbird,” which was inspired by watching the racial crisis in America’s southern states in the 1960’s. Allison offered some preliminary thoughts about the fight for civil rights that is going on again in America, particularly for people in the LGBTQ+ community.
Her “Blackbird” featured her on clarinet when she wasn’t singing and floating around the stage on air.
While some performers took artistic license with Paul’s songs, such as Bruce Hornsby later in the show with “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” which took us occasionally in different musical directions and gave us some of his most creative piano playing, The Cactus Blossoms, two classically handsome guys on guitars, didn’t change a note and gave us all a very enjoyable version of And I Love Her.
The amazing Jennifer Nettles sat at the piano to since Silly Love Songs with deeper and more personal feeling than the lighter original.
Shortly after that, female singers in white robes filled the two angular aisles of the theater and eventually took the stage. It was NYC’s Resistance Revival Chorus and they raised the roof with “Let It Be,” which was a perfect choice for the group. It got many in the room singing along and received a rousing, largely standing ovation.
It was at this point that we all cheered for the young people performing “Get Back.” While the guitarists were great, a young boy lead singer stole the show.
After the wild applause died down for that segment, we were treated to the Boston band, Lake Street Dive. Led by a powerful and very pregnant lead singer Rachael Price this five-piece group gave us a rousing rendition of “Let Me Roll It.” One of its members actually played a bass.
Hornsby came next and that led to the golden throat of Graham Nash. Nash, accompanied by a pianist and a French horn, gave a deep performance of “For No One.” It got extra strong applause from an audience that must also have been thinking about the recent loss of David Crosby when he began.
I learned after the show that John Russell’s take on “Let ‘Em In,” from Wings, wowed the women in the audience.
I hate to skip over some incredible performances but space is limited and I must mention the closing numbers of “Band On The Run,” led by former Wings member Denny Laine (who played on the original recording) and Nancy Wilson, and “Hey Jude,” which brought all the performers on stage and got the audience fully up and singing and having fun.
Kudos to Dorf, who owns the spectacular City Winery chain of performance spaces and dining establishments. He’s successfully pulled off a number of these tributes in the past, including ones for Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, and Elton John. The mix of artists is always terrific. Dorf was planning one pre-pandemic for Carly Simon. Let’s hope that idea resurfaces for next year!