The most commonly heard phrase spoken by attendees and artists alike at Friday's MusiCares tribute to Neil Diamond? "Feels like a Bar Mitzvah!" Or the biggest karaoke party ever, but rather than having to suffer through your drunk friend's closing time rendition of "Sweet Caroline," instead some 2,500 music industry VIPs got the man himself backed by Grammy vets like Coldplay, Tim McGraw, Foo Fighters, Faith Hill and Chris Cornell, along with newcomers the Jonas Brothers, Jennifer Hudson and Adele. (Check out photos of the night's big performers onstage and off in our Grammy party gallery.)
The rah-rah — or ba-ba-ba — atmosphere made the sometimes stuffy gala more of a swinging soiree, and that excitement was palpable on the red carpet, where, despite heavy rain, many of the evening's performers came out to soak up a little of Neil Diamond's love light. "He's the master of the three chord song," said Urge Overkill singer Nash Kato, who reprised the Pulp Fiction version of "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" later in the night. "He was our version of punk rock." Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl couldn't agree more. In fact, he credits Urge Overkill for helping him see the light. "When Urge fuckin' rocked that song is when I thought, 'Oh my God, Neil Diamond's fucking cool!'," Grohl said. "Because Nirvana toured with them early on and we quickly realized that Urge Overkill were the raddest dudes you could ever meet, so if they like him, he's gotta be cool."
That sentiment was shared by Chris Cornell, who went one step further, suggesting that maybe it's time for a tribute album. "It would be a long one," he said, "but it's great when someone has a diverse catalog of so many amazing songs." Others, like Jason Mraz, are more recent converts. "I caught on when Rick Rubin produced 12 Songs," he said. "I knew some of the hits, but flipping through the liner notes and reading the story of that album, I was really moved."
Naturally, the event spanned every stage of Diamond's four decade-plus songwriting career. Among the highlights from the early years: Coldplay's acoustic take on the 1967 Monkees hit, "I'm A Believer," which Chris Martin led quartet-style with a squeaky Casio, Raul Malo's country spin on 1966's "Solitary Man," and Jennifer Hudson's moving turn on 1969's "Holly Holy," for which she received the first standing ovation of the night. Kid Rock came next with "Thank the Lord for the Night Time," and later joked backstage, "I'm gonna kill whoever made me follow Jennifer Hudson. Thanks!"
Shortly before hitting the stage, Cornell was also stressing about his solo shot at "Kentucky Woman," after some difficulties during the afternoon rehearsal. "There were technical issues that made it sort of stop and go," he told us. "Then when I played it for the first time, just to get through it once, I was having a problem with this one line, I just couldn't spit it out. I turn to my left and Neil Diamond is standing there. So he gave me pointers on how to do it. He said, 'I've sang it quite a few times,' and I was, like, 'I bet you have!' "
As for other classics of the Diamond canon, Eric Benet belted a soulful "Heartlight," Adele tackled "Cracklin' Rosie," Foo Fighters ripped through "Delirious Love," Tim McGraw handled "Hello Again," while his wife Faith Hill got to duet — and dance — with Diamond for "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." Closing out the night was, what else, but an all-star sing-along of "Sweet Caroline."
Backstage, the stars lingered a good while after the show, still buzzing and all smiles. Kid Rock raided the Foo Fighters' beer stash once his supply ran out (with permission, 'natch), Grohl chatted with Chris Martin, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw stayed close, and MC Jimmy Kimmel made nice with John Stamos, who earlier in the night, wanted to offer a bid on Kimmel's girlfriend, Sarah Silverman, as part of the MusiCares live auction. Kimmel's retort? "She's Jewish, she's very expensive."
As for the man of the hour? Sweaty but elated, Diamond had this to say at the end of the night: "I know I felt good about it in a way that I don't understand. Complimented, of course, but more than that, it was an affirmation for me by some really talented people. It was as good as it gets."
Grammy weekend has only just begun! Stay tuned to Rolling Stone for reports from all the hottest parties and red carpets, and of course Sunday's big show. Catch it all in our Grammy hub.