All For The Hall With Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Heart, Jason Mraz
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By Tim McPhate
Despite taking place in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, the time-honored traditions of country music filled Club Nokia on March 4 during the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's annual All For The Hall event.
Designed to raise funds for the hall's mission to perpetuate and preserve country music, the benefit was anchored around a concert featuring performances by Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Heart, and Jason Mraz, along with special guests. The artists performed in an intimate "guitar pull" format, a Nashville throwback that entails singer/songwriters swapping songs and stories alongside their peers in an unplugged setting.
Gill served as the concert's unofficial host, introducing the artists, telling stories and adding accompaniment to some songs. The 20-time GRAMMY winner opened with "Together Again," a Buck Owens classic he described as a "testament to a great song" given its "timeless" qualities. Gill's finger-picking and soaring tenor were in fine form on GRAMMY winner Merle Haggard's "I Can't Be Myself." He paid tribute to wife Amy Grant with his hit "Whenever You Come Around," a song he said was inspired by the first time he encountered her smile. "She's the best thing that ever happened to me," said Gill.
Harris' selections included an original composition, "Home Sweet Home," and covers of Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl" and Will Jennings and Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven." Putting on her "interpreter" hat for the latter, the 12-time GRAMMY winner's smoky vocals enhanced the song's melancholy feel.
Though their roots spring from the rock community, Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson seemed comfortable given the country-friendly surroundings. The sisters performed lilting versions of their 1978 hit "Dog & Butterfly" and "Sand," a more recent song showcasing their tight harmonies. However, a high point came in the form of a quiet countrified reading of Dillard & Clark's "Through The Morning, Through The Night," on which they were joined by Gill. "[That was] one for my bucket list," said Ann Wilson.
"I'm here for selfish reasons," joked Mraz. "Look at what seat I have." A relative newcomer considering his company, the two-time GRAMMY winner more than held his own, bouncing through uplifting hits such as "I Won't Give Up" and "I'm Yours." The latter not only had the audience clapping to the beat, but Nancy Wilson bobbing along and adding percussive accents on her guitar. The performance garnered the evening's biggest ovation, after which Gill told Mraz, "I think you're on to something."
A trio of special guests also joined the fun. Representing the first family of country music, Holly Williams (the granddaughter of Hank Williams Sr.) performed "Waiting On June," an ode to the relationship shared between her maternal grandparents. Actress Rita Wilson, herself a singer/songwriter, performed "Still Gone," a stark ballad about the loss of a loved one. Emerging singer/songwriter Camaron Ochs sang "Burning House," a quiet song inspired by heartbreak and a past "fella."
Gill closed the evening by acknowledging the recent deaths of two country legends, George Jones and Ray Price. Accompanied by Harris, he segued into "Bartender's Blues," a song written by James Taylor that was recorded by Jones on his 1978 album of the same name. It was a fitting finale to an evening that celebrated spontaneity, camaraderie and songcraft, as well as, in Gill's words, the "history, present day and future of country music."
Vince Gill: "Together Again" (Buck Owens cover)
Emmylou Harris: "Home Sweet Home"
Heart: "Dog & Butterfly"
Jason Mraz: "Frank D. Fixer"
Rita Wilson: "Still Gone"
Vince Gill: "I Can't Be Myself" (Merle Haggard cover)
Emmylou Harris: "Orphan Girl" (Gillian Welch cover)
Heart: "Through The Morning, Through The Night" (Dillard & Clark cover)
Jason Mraz: "I Won't Give Up"
Holly Williams: "Waiting On June"
Vince Gill: "Whenever You Come Around"
Emmylou Harris: "Tears In Heaven" (Eric Clapton cover)
Jason Mraz: "I'm Yours"
Camaron Ochs: "Burning House"
Vince Gill: "Bartender's Blues" (George Jones cover)
For more information on the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, visit www.countrymusichalloffame.org.