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Tom Petty warmly celebrated with words, songs for 70th birthday
Tom Petty was, sadly, not with us to celebrate his 70th birthday this week.
But his family run Petty Legacy LLC made sure there was a party on Friday, Oct. 23, that indeed damned the torpedoes and soared into the great wide open -- and beyond.
Three days after his actual birthday the fourth Tom Petty Birthday Bash took vaulted the event from a hometown event in Gainesville, Fla. into a star-studded international affair. For nearly five and a half hours -- including special programming on SiriusXM's Tom Petty Radio and an almost three-hour virtual tribute concert -- Petty was celebrated in words and song, deservingly lauded but without single cloying or disingenuous settlement.
The man -- who died unexpectedly on Oct. 2, 2017 at the age of 66 -- simply got his due from those who loved and respected him, and fans were the real recipients of the birthday present.
The emotional heart of the Bash came towards the end, when Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench -- who started with Petty in the Gainesville band Mudcrutch -- convened at the band's gear-strewn Clubhouse in Los Angeles, playing together for the first time "in two or three years," according to Campbell. Tench sang a gentle, stripped-down rendition of the Heartbreakers' 1977 favorite "American Girl," while Campbell followed with "Something Good Coming."
They finished with "We Want Boogie 'Bout Midnight," which Campbell introduced as a song performed by Johnny Hines a Gainesville regular who used to pen shows for Mudcrutch.
There were also vintage clips of Petty and the Heartbreakers performing early hits such as "I Need to Know" and "Refugee," and a later rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well! (Part 1)." Other bandmates such as bassist Ron Blair and drummer Steve Ferrone were among the flood of testimonials during the streamcast, and Blair finished the show by calling out the other surviving Heartbreakers to declare "I'm ready to play at the drop of a hat...Just let me know."
There was, not surprisingly, an abundance of musical highlights throughout, including performances from the Foo Fighters ("Honey Bee") and Gary Clark Jr. ("Good Enough") at the 2017 MusiCares Person of the Year gala honoring Petty but mostly homemade tributes done especially for the Bash. Those ranged from acoustic at-home affairs to conceptually ambitious videos; Margo Price and Lukas Nelson, for instance, weaved footage of Stevie Nicks and the Heartbreakers' video for "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" with their own performance, and Dhani Harrison and Graham Coxon teamed up for a wildly psychedelic presentation of "Love is a Long Road."
Simpler moments came from Adam Sandler at home playing a solo acoustic rendition of "Yer So Bad" and Brandi Carlile and her bandmates' faithful rendering of "Wildflowers." Amos Lee pointedly played in front of a poster for the late John Prine as sang "Room at the Top," while Beck was filmed from above while playing "Don't Come Around Here No More" on a staircase and Norah Jones offered a "Wildflowers" album couplet of "Time to Move On," on guitar, and "Only a Broken Heart" on piano. Chris Stapleton contributed a haunting version of "Don't Fade on Me," Jackson Browne sang "The Waiting" as a solo piano piece and a mostly masked Spoon ran through a muscular take of "Breakdown."
The verbal portions of the Bash were just as affecting, with keen insights offered by Petty producers such as Rick Rubin, Jimmy Iovine, George Drakoulias and Dave Stewart, as well from Petty himself via archival interview recordings. George Harrison's widow Olivia offered warm remembrances of their social time together as well as the formation of the all-star Traveling Wilburys, and Jakob Dylan, who inducted Petty and the Heartbreakers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame delivered a couple of scholarly but heartfelt discourses on Petty's achievements and influences.
Lenny Kravitz, meanwhile, spoke about opening for Petty back in 1989 -- how warmly he was treated and mentored, especially via trips to vintage guitar stores. And Stevie Nicks -- who carries a badge Petty gave her as an Honoroary Heartbreaker -- narrated a letter in which she called Petty a "best friend" and "a moral compass."
There was, of course, both direct and implied promotion for the newly released "Wildflowers and All the Rest," but the bash also raised money for four charities -- and is continuing to do so via tompettybirthdaybash.com and tom petty.com/festival. He may be gone, but Petty is clearly, and deservedly, not forgotten.
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