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Not to counter the Everly Brothers’ most famous song, but it was all “hello, love” and “hello, happiness” as the Americana Music Association honored the recently departed Phil Everly with a deliriously upbeat pre-Grammy tribute concert Saturday at the Troubadour. Among those showing up to pay their musical respects — and/or to play on some original material as well as a brotherly perennial — were Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, Rodney Crowell, T Bone Burnett, Joe Henry, and Sarah Jarosz. “He rocked the world … softly,” as one of the headliners, Jim Lauderdale, put it.
Everly’s widow, Patty, watched on the balcony for the two-and-a-half show, just a little over three weeks after her husband’s death, and was saluted at the outset of the show by AMA director Jed Hilly, who said, “You got balls, baby.” Don Everly , meanwhile, sent regrets and said he was still too “broken-hearted” to attend in a letter read by Crowell near the close of the evening.
Since the Americana Association focuses on roots music, it was inevitable that many of the performers would shy away from the Everlys’ bank of pop hits and drift toward the old folk songs the brothers covered on their landmark 1958 LP, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. Since that recording represented a back-to-roots move for young rockers, there’s a case to be made for that album as the very touchstone for the entire modern Americana movement.
Among those covering material from the Everlys’ Daddy album was Rhiannon Giddens, a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops who’s just wrapping up a T Bone Burnett-produced solo album. Burnett has been swearing to anyone who’ll listen that Giddens’ appearance at his Inside Llewyn Davis-promoting “Another Day, Another Time” concert in New York last September was a “star is born” moment. That seemed to be replicated with this blown-away L.A. crowd (which included a lot of visiting Nashvillians and Austinites) as Giddens delivered a knockout punch first with the Everly-popularized “Long Time Gone,” then another traditional folk song, “Waterboy,” which she’d learned from Odetta.
Covering Odetta takes cajones as significant as the ones Hilly credited Patty Everly with. Giddens was more than up to the task with a wide-ranging, powerhouse voice that’s full of surprises and part supple folk-rock defiance, part Audra McDonald theatricality. The ovation Giddens drew probably had the diners next door at Dan Tana’s covering their ears, and she had a tough job getting the crowd to pipe down enough that she could finally introduce the following act, as was the evening’s custom.
“The last time we played a show with Rhiannon,” said the Milk Carton Kids, presumably referring to Burnett’s NYC concert, “we played before her. That was supposed to be the same arrangement tonight. So I think it’s time for an intermission.” Nonetheless, the duo soldiered on, and proved their placement may not have been an accident (not coincidentally, they’re also Burnett production protégés) as they provided the most truly and exquisitely Everly-like harmonies of the night. Their cover choice: “Sleepless Nights,” a 1960 hit that also came to be associated with Gram Parsons (of the Americana movement’s other favorite “brothers,” the Flying Burritos).
Literal sibling harmony did not go unrepresented, as Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith offered a sublime “Stories We Could Tell” (the title track of a 1972 album that briefly reinvented the Everlys as California-style country-rockers), while the Haden Triplets tackled “So Sad (to Watch Good Love Go Bad).” The Haden sisters found celebrity backup in the twin-guitar team of Cooder and Burnett, who supplied support for the last few numbers of the show while never stepping into the vocal spotlight themselves.
Joe Henry teased the crowd by saying that when he sings “You Can’t Fail Me Now” in concert, he usually asks the audience to imagine Raitt (who covered it on her last album) singing it instead of him, as he does in his own head. That led to her popping up for a duet that tracked as the evening’s most moving non-Everly-related highlight. Raitt didn’t contribute a brotherly cover but did reappear for the closing group-sing of “When Will I Be Loved.”
As a reminder that the Beatles are the main honorees of this Grammy week, Peter Asher, of Peter & Gordon fame, appeared to sing the number Paul McCartney wrote for his duo exactly 50 years and one week ago, “A World Without Love.” Speaking of the incongruity of “an overdressed Englishman” coming to an Americana event, Asher quipped, “Don’t worry, it’s not another British Invasion, I promise — been there, done that,” but noted, “We were all trying to imitate the Everly Brothers back then, but none of us could — not us, not Paul and John, not even Simon & Garfunkel.” His cover choice was “Crying in the Rain,” the only tune to be sung at both this event and the previous night’s MusiCares Carole King salute, since she and Gerry Goffin co-wrote it for Phil and Don.
Also paying homage over the course of the evening were Jarocz (doing another McCartney song, this one a latter-day gem written for the Everly Brothers, “On the Wings of a Nightingale”), bluesman Bobby Rush (“Gone Gone Gone”), female bluegrass group Della Mae (“Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Suzy), fellow bluegrass nominee James King (“Down in the Willow”), the Jamestown Revival (“Kentucky”), and Lauderdale and Crowell (“Let It Be Me”).
Enjoying the long evening strictly as a fan was Steve Martin, up for two Grammys for a collection he recorded with Edie Brickell, who never budged all night from his spot in the private balcony to bust out a banjo. Among those offering low-key spousal support, meanwhile, were Callie Khouri, the Nashville creator and Burnett’s wife, and a beaming Jack Black, husband of Tanya Haden.
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