That rumbling in Hollywood on Friday night was no cause for alarm - it was only a massive outburst of good vibrations, as pop music legend and erstwhile Beach Boy Brian Wilson was honored as the MusiCares Person of the Year at a star-studded, musically exuberant charity dinner and concert at the Hollywood Palladium.
With a silent auction benefit, a sumptuous Wolfgang Puck-catered meal, and red carpet music VIPs that ranged from Neil Young to the Backstreet Boys all part of the evening, the event was a rousing occasion for the music community to celebrate one of its most extraordinary talents, while also helping to extend aid to musicians in need.
The week leading up to the GRAMMY Awards Telecast is packed with worthy tributes and salutes to a wide variety of music-makers, but the MusiCares Person of the Year tribute remains a prestigious highlight among all the GRAMMY festivities. The Person of the Year tribute is also the signature fund-raising event for MusiCares, which offers a personal and medical safety net to members of the music community (That net was strengthened last fall when MusiCares merged with the Musicians' Assistance Program).
MusiCares Chair Les Bider was up at the podium early in the evening, emphasizing the strong historical bonds between musicians and charity, and providing some overarching context for the night of music that was to follow. Bider's point was made directly when he turned the microphone over to Brian Wilson's bandleader Jeff Foskett, who took to the role of charity auctioneer with an aplomb that got results: A one-of-a-kind set of lyrics and lead sheets for the music of Wilson masterwork Pet Sounds - handwritten by Wilson himself - was introduced with an opening bid of $5,000 and sold for an ovation-earning $105,000.
With that money in the MusiCares tip jar, it was time for some music, and the first act up was the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who ripped through a straight and true cover of Wilson's paean to car cruising, "I Get Around."
Wilson's expert backing band then took the stage, in order to provide musical support to an amazing roster of guest stars. They began by backing the shimmering harmonies of the Backstreet Boys, who managed to capture both the sneaky fun and poignancy of "When I Grow Up To Be A Man." They were followed by country chanteuse Shelby Lynne, who added some rural grit to the coastal swoon of one of Wilson's very first tunes, "Surfer Girl."
Funk-stars Earth, Wind & Fire delivered a surprisingly sensuous and understated take on "Don't Talk Put Your Head On My Shoulder," which made effective use of an acoustic soft touch rather than the group's more characteristic brassy approach. They were followed by an all-star keyboard team of Michael McDonald and Billy Preston, who worked together on a soaring, heartfelt cover of "Don't Worry Baby." Richie Sambora applied some expert high-volume guitar-wrangling to a more recent Wilson tune, "City Blues."
A high-energy gospel-inflected workout on "Sail On Sailor," performed by Jamie Cullum with support from Fred Martin And The Levite Camp, brought the Palladium crowd to its feet, but the room was just as quickly hushed by a delicately moving acoustic segue of the Barenaked Ladies' "Brian Wilson" into that group's rendition of Wilson's "Til I Die."
Legendary guitar-slinger Jeff Beck showed off his remarkably expressive chops by playing the vocal line to "Surf's Up" as a guitar lead, and followed that with a rave-up version of "Surfin' USA." Darlene Love beautifully belted out "Wouldn't It Be Nice," and Neil Young provided an emotional high point of the night, dedicating a version of "In My Room" to Wilson brothers Carl and Dennis.
Finally it was time for Wilson himself to take the stage, and he kept his remarks short and sweet: "I'm not one for giving speeches, so let me say thank you the best way I know how â€” by playing a few tunes." He then proceeded to raise the roof with a charged up "Heroes And Villains," a gorgeous "God Only Knows" that featured the equally gorgeous India.Arie, a thundering "Good Vibrations," and a kick-out-the-jams "Fun, Fun, Fun."
"Thank you â€” and we'd like to send you off with a prayer," announced Wilson, before performing the beautiful, evening-ending "Love And Mercy."
Wilson was chosen as the 2005 Person of the Year for his accomplishments as a musician and humanitarian, including his ongoing support of his late brother's Carl Wilson Foundation for cancer research as well as performances to benefit the Bridge School and Adopt-A-Minefield. The event comes on the heels of a tremendous year for Wilson, in which he completed his long-anticipated Smile project and toured it to great acclaim. Wilson's songwriting has earned him a spot in the GRAMMY Hall of Fame. He and his band, the Beach Boys, are recipients of a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award and are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
MusiCares' mission is to ensure that music people have a compassionate place to turn in times of need while focusing the resources and attention of the music industry on human service issues that directly impact the health and welfare of the music community. You can learn more here.