Crow's performance -- billed as the first concert played at an altitude of 35,000 feet -- celebrated the launch of Sony's first foray into the online music market, the Sony Connect store, a coming-out party for its latest product the Hi-MD (a digital walkman), and marking a unique partnership with United Airlines. To launch the music store, Sony and United Airlines chartered an airplane from Chicago to Los Angeles with Crow onboard to perform for invited guests. And the mood was celebratory from the captain's opening welcome, that "today we fly as the Crow flies," to Crow's performance as the plane glided over the Grand Canyon.
While passengers speculated about the logistics of the performance, crews were busy setting up portable, battery-operated speakers, amplifiers and microphones for Crow and acoustic-guitar-playing sideman Tim Smith. Remarkably, every device -- and the onboard camera crew which filmed the performance on high-definition cameras -- was FDA-approved. The duo performed before a crowd of about 120 invited guests and select United Airlines crew members.
Opening with a simmering "A Change Would Do You Good," Crow, clad in a biceps-revealing black-and-white polka-dotted top and black pants, turned up the charm, impressing the captive audience with her wit and the intimate, unplugged performance. Crow's set spanned her career but also included a new song, the Byrds-esque "Light in Your Eyes," with its jangly pop refrain.
Before a country-fied version of "If It Makes You Happy," complete with finger-picking and sweet harmonies, Crow joked, "So, I can't lie to you. It's been a really long time since I've been in the coach section."
Her sense of humor was appreciated, especially toward the end of the set when technical difficulties caused the speakers in the cabin to abruptly die during the middle of "My Favorite Mistake." But Crow soldiered on, still grinning, and performed without amplification. The situation offered the rare opportunity to hear Crow's pure voice without mediation.
Crow was invited to be part of the event because of her dedication to the cause of artists' rights and the anti-piracy movement, something Sony executives hope their online store will combat.
"I think the industry has really been reticent about acknowledging [the fact that] the technology is going to stay," Crow told Rolling Stone before the flight. "Companies like Sony and companies like Apple are providing an opportunity to lawfully download music and be able to pay for it. It's not going to go away. So, I think the solution is to actually incorporate it and try to make it easier for people to download music.
"What I've realized with downloading and playlists and all the gadgets is it's making people excited about songs," Crow continued. "It's making people excited about new music and new musicians. However that happens, that's really the objective."
Online services also offer artists the ability to release singles and exclusive content to fans. "One of the other great things is that you can put a single out there and not have to put a whole album out," Crow said. "It's great to be able to put something up that's just a one-off."
The Sony Connect service prices downloads at $0.99 or $10 for a whole album, to Sony-compatible devices including a fleet of walkmans, mini-disc players and portable CD players. The partnership with United allows customers to swap frequent flier miles for songs; for 10,000 miles, customers can purchase 100 songs or ten albums.
Crow fans might have to wait a bit longer for next album, but she's already written ten songs. "It's [the] early stages, and I'd love to say it's going to be this or that, but when you go to make a record you never know exactly what it's going to be," Crow said. "I'm shooting for a very acoustic record that's kind of stripped down in the style of Seventies Neil Young -- just straight-up country-inspired folky pop tunes."
In the meantime, fans will soon be able to download the audio and, perhaps, video from her in-flight concert on the Sony Connect store.
Sheryl Crow's set list:
A Change Would Do You Good
The First Cut Is the Deepest
Light in Your Eyes
If It Makes You Happy
My Favorite Mistake
Soak Up the Sun
Everyday Is a Winding Road