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Concert for Civility, Respect and Understanding

Civility concert draws top talent, national attention

A Californian and two guys from Chicago and Detroit wanted to remind Tucsonans who we are.

The Concert for Civility, one of several shortened titles for the March 10 event, was in response to the Jan. 8 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others, in which six people died. It was collaboration of archetypal So Cal activist/singer/songwriter Jackson Browne, along with promoter Danny Zelisko and rocker Alice Cooper, both former Midwesterners who have long made Phoenix their home.

As a fundraiser, the concert was designed to bring together a variety of artists for short sets where participants intermingled purposefully, adding strategic harmonies or stinging guitar.

In all, 14 acts worked through more than 35 songs in just a little over four hours. Performers, in order, included Roger Clyne, Joel Rafael, Dar Williams, Jennifer Warnes, Sam Moore, Nils Lofgren, Calexico, Ozomatli, Jerry Riopelle, Keb’ Mo’, David Crosby and Graham Nash, Browne and Cooper.

During the first half of the concert, local speakers talked about the financial beneficiary of the concert, the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, administered by the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona.

Ron Barber, Giffords' district director, established the fund in response to the shooting. Barber, who is still recovering from being shot twice on Jan. 8, was introduced by Zeliko and Cooper and joined by his family on stage. They acknowledged and thanked local health care staff and emergency responders to long applause. Barber also talked about the fund, addressing issues such as easier access to mental health services and programs to reduce bullying in schools.

Others speaking briefly included Mayor Bob Walkup; Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Lea Marquez Peterson; Daniel Hernandez, a Giffords intern who is credited with saving her life; and Emily Nottingham, mother of Giffords’ aide Gabriel Zimmerman, who was among those killed.

The concert was sometimes blithely referred to as a Jackson Browne concert. That was not nearly the case. It was more a variety show with widely varying styles of pop music. Browne was a primary organizer whose own management and personnel set in motion the extensive donated services and equipment. That included his own band, who served excellently as backup musicians throughout the evening.

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However, Browne never showed any intention of being more than one of multiple elements in the evening’s entertainment. Browne, Zelisko and Cooper served in turn as a master of ceremonies.

Beginning nearly at the scheduled 6 p.m. start with traditional native singing by Milton “Quiltman” Sahme, Zelisko briefly welcomed the crowd and moved immediately to Tucson favorite Roger Clyne, now a Phoenix resident. Joel Rafael was joined by Crosby/Nash adding their signature harmonies to “America, Come Home.” Another local favorite, East Coast folk singer Dar Williams, was joined by Browne for her song, “Mercy of the Fallen.” Browne lingered on stage only long enough to introduce Daniel Hernandez, who received the first of an evening full of standing ovations.

Browne came back to sit at the piano for the Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers,” joined by songstress Jennifer Warnes. Browne then introduced Emily Nottingham, who spoke briefly and movingly about her son.

Warnes returned for an a capella version of “Amazing Grace” inviting the audience to join in. Sam Moore, half of the soul duo Sam and Dave, now in his mid seventies, gave powerful and moving versions of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “America, the Beautiful,” which also became a sing-along.

After Ron Barber spoke, E-Street guitarist Nils Lofgren resumed the music softly on acoustic guitar, playing “Believe” with Crosby/Nash. Lofgrin then switched to electric guitar and started amping up the night. His solos, screaming and elegant, reverberated throughout the hall on “Girl In Motion” and a hard rock version of early Beatles’ hit, “Any Time At All.”

After brief videos for the event from Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, Tucson band Calexico closed out the first half of the show with their usual high energy. Augmented by a full mariachi orchestra, they rocked through “Inspiracion,” “Across the Wire” and “Crystal Frontier.” They settled down long enough for Browne to join them to sing his Southwestern flavored romance, “Linda Paloma,” mellowing the crowd into the intermission.

Bringing the energy level back up after the break fell to genre-defying LA band Ozomatli. Starting from some of the same influences as Calexico, Ozomatli has arrived at a more urban funk/hip hop conclusion. They animated the crowd both in their seats and into the aisles.

Jerry Riopelle, who played Phoenix and Tucson extensively in the '70s, offered “So Young,” and “Walking On Water,” familiar paeans for any young Arizona residents of that era. Indeed, most of the audience and many of the performers were clearly of that generation. Crosby, Nash, Browne and Cooper are all in their mid to late 60s.

Keb’ Mo’ provided a rocking blues set before being joined by Crosby/Nash for a version of “For What Its Worth,” written and recorded in 1966 by their sometime band mate, Stephen Stills, when he was in Buffalo Springfield.

Crosby and Nash next took center stage, performing a new song by Nash, one of the most pointed and poignant of the evening, called “In Your Name,” which questioned any violence supposedly conducted on behalf of God. Crosby played acoustic guitar for a gentle version of his signature song, “Guinevere.” Lofgren joined them to provide caustic lead guitar on the politically charged '60s anthem, “Long Time Gone.”

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Jackson Browne then took the stage for his own short but exquisitely crafted set, opening with “Doctor My Eyes,” complete with gospel singers. He followed with the pointed “I’m A Patriot,” its hymn-like refrains alternating with activist sentiments.

Alice Cooper represented both a musical and political contrast for the evening.

Cooper, whose early hits celebrated youthful defiance and rebellion, has always rocked harder than the folkish strands of California singer/songwriters such as Crosby, Nash, Browne et al. Cooper is also recognized as a moderate conservative compared to their more liberal views. Those differences were brushed aside in the interests of the cause which had united them. Cooper, who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Monday, brought the crowd to their feet with “I’m Eighteen,” “Under My Wheels” and “Schools Out.”

There was no small irony moving from the implied youthquake violence of “Schools Out” (“School’s been blown to pieces”) to the pro-education, responsibility-oriented “Teach Your Children,” the evenings grand finale. All performers returned to the stage, including the mariachi orchestra, as Nash, the song’s author, led the genial sing-along.

There was talk throughout the evening, starting with Mayor Walkup, about turning this into an annual event. Certainly Zelisko was interested, returning to the idea several times as he spoke onstage.

As a concert, the event itself was a model of efficiency and egoless cooperation, with generally smooth and quick transitions between acts. It ended nearly exactly on time, despite the numerous variables of so many performers and public speakers.

The cavernous concrete convention center arena was designed more for hockey than intricate harmonies. Nonetheless, the sound was excellent throughout: clear and well defined, without being overly loud.

The pace of the show built nicely, cresting before intermission, then building continuously through the headliners’ sets in the second half, before mellowing back out in the finale. The musicians all gave world class performances, perhaps enjoying themselves all the more because the tight, focused sets distributed the entertainment responsibilities more evenly than an evening-long solo concert.

In the end, the Concert for Civility, Respect and Understanding continued the process of community healing in the wake of Jan. 8. People sang together, behaved well and had a good time. With 4,500 tickets sold, it appeared to be a financial success.

It will take longer to assess the concert’s overall social impact. But even simply as a signature musical event, its long-term continuance is advantageous and would be an unambiguous statement for and about Tucson.

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Mar 12, 2011, 3:22 pm
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Good for Alice Cooper and the other stars for taking part in this worthy cause. At this rate parents will demand their kids buy his albums.

Alice Cooper dreamed up the name for his group based on the idea of “a cute, sweet little girl with a hatchet behind her back.” On my Rockaeology blog at http://bit.ly/iaFRn2 I tell the story behind “School’s Out.” Cooper said, “When we did “School’s Out,” I knew we had just done the national anthem. I’ve become the Francis Scott Key of the last day of school… It nailed the experience of being released from an educational institution, that elated feeling of freedom, and kids everywhere got it.”

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Dave Irwin/TucsonSentiel.com

The concert finale featured all performers singing 'Teach Your Children.'

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