Set List Bonus: Petty Fest Los Angeles
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By Crystal Larsen
With Tom Petty recently announcing the summer release of Hypnotic Eye, his first studio effort in four years, fans in Los Angeles were appropriately treated to a three-hour-long celebration of the GRAMMY winner's music at the sold-out Petty Fest on April 3 at the El Rey Theatre.
House musicians the Cabin Down Below Band — comprising music industry veteran Alex Levy on guitar, Rolling Stone contributing editor Austin Scaggs on bass and Matt Romano on drums — kicked the night into gear with an apropos cover of Petty's "Cabin Down Below," after which Scaggs gave an advanced thanks to the musicians for donating their time and the event's sponsor, Jameson Irish Whisky, who kept the crowd properly hydrated all night and made it possible for 100 percent of proceeds from ticket sales to directly support the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which helps support musicians struggling with health or illness issues.
Petty Fest, and its cousins Dylan Fest and Stones Fest, began 10 years ago in New York as a jam session to celebrate Bob Dylan's 60th birthday. Today the event is billed as the "Best Fest" and is known for its all-star lineups and surprise guest performers. With upcoming Petty Fests scheduled for Seattle (April 9) and Chicago (April 23), the L.A. edition featured some local favorites, including Dead Sara vocalist Emily Armstrong, who lent her raspy, ferocious vocals and Mick Jagger-esque stage swagger to a cover of "Refugee" with the help of GRAMMY winner Matt Sorum (Guns N' Roses/Velvet Revolver) on drums. Earlier in the night, Sorum (on guitar) teamed with his recent bride, Ace Harper, for a sweet rendition of the Petty/Steve Nicks duet "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around."
"If you don't want to lose her, marry her," said Sorum, addressing the single men in the audience.
Fellow L.A. resident (by way of Atlanta) Butch Walker, who, according to Twitter, had just recovered from strep throat, didn't miss a beat as he plowed through classics including "Even The Losers" and "Runnin' Down A Dream." During the latter, he threw himself back onto the crowd while running through his guitar licks, leading some in the audience to tweet that Walker's performance was the best of the night. Adding more fuel to the axe fire, guitarist Lukas Nelson (son of GRAMMY winner Willie Nelson) lent his shredding ability on "Breakdown," and earlier dueted with vocalist Ruby Stewart on "Here Comes My Girl." Doing double duty on acoustic guitar and harmonica, Pete Yorn performed a near-perfect cover of the crowd-favorite "Mary Jane's Last Dance."
Several up-and-coming female vocalists were also thrust into the spotlight: Canadian-born folk songstress Chase Cohl lent her delicate vocals to the wistful "Wildflowers"; Nashville singer Adriel Denae performed the bittersweet "Time To Move On"; and fellow Nashville songstress Nikki Lane (whose forthcoming album was produced by GRAMMY winner Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys) performed a sultry cover of "Saving Grace," dressed in an all-black outfit that was reminiscent of Olivia Newton-John in "Grease."
While the evening didn't seem to carry on as planned (there were a few last-minute no-shows, including Flea, Duff McKagan, Maroon 5's James Valentine, and GRAMMY photographer Danny Clinch), there were plenty of surprises. Juliette Lewis appeared onstage dressed like a go-go dancer for a rocking cover of "Don't Do Me Like That"; and, much to the surprise of the audience, Ke$ha was introduced to perform the Petty-favorite "Free Fallin'."
To close out the night, the Cabin Down Below Band brought many of the night's performers back onstage for a performance of the Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care."
With plenty of songs to cover, not a second was wasted on anything but the music, the cause and some good old-fashioned Tom Petty fandom, as performer Cory Chisel left the audience with this benediction: "Give your heart and soul to our Lord Tom Petty."
For more information on the best fest ever, click here.