When she and Sting first visited South America's Amazon rainforest in 1988, Trudie Styler remembers flying into thick smoke from a fire raging below. "It was like seeing paradise and hell at the same time," she told a packed Carnegie Hall at last night's Revlon Concert for the Rainforest Fund.
The evening's two-hour "Songs from the Silver Screen" event featured performances from Sir Elton John, James Taylor, Jennifer Hudson, Bruno Mars and more. Styler, who co-founded the Rainforest Fund to protect land and human rights for the indigenous there, singled out Chevron as the worst violator in Ecuador, where a court fined the oil giant $18 billion in February.
"I liked that Trudie named names," Tom Hanks – who was in the audience along with Aretha Franklin and Clive Davis – told Rolling Stone after the event. "It's good that she got there and told it like it is."
Backed by the 40-piece St. Luke's Orchestra, the show opened on a lighter note in the familiar Land of Oz, with Meryl Streep, Sting, Taylor and John trading verses of "If I Only Had a Brain" and sporting proper attire: Streep channeled Dorothy, while Sting donned a Tin Man hat and John wore furry lion "paws," red sequins and ruby slippers. John later joined Mars for a standout duet of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," and Jennifer Hudson's sizzling gospel take on the Band's "The Weight" proved the night's heaviest hit.
President Bill Clinton briefly took the stage to remind the audience of the dark counterpart to the night's fun – the world's rainforests throughout Africa, Asia and the Americas, in need of $4 million. "You have more in common with those isolated native tribes and those people who know how to care for their habitat than you can possibly imagine," he said.
The concert exposed many in attendance to the devastation they've never seen firsthand. "I was inspired to go and try to write something," said singer Amy Grant, whose husband, Vince Gill, performed among the night's lineup. Taylor, who has performed in Brazil, said he has yet to visit the Amazon.
"It's just a reminder of what a dire and pressing problem it is. It's really the main thing facing mankind today, is whether or not we can live on this planet and not damage it too terribly," Taylor told Rolling Stone at a gala following the show. The singer-songwriter also confirmed that he's "about half-done" with his first album of original music since his 2002 LP, October Road, while John said he expects to release his latest, The Diving Board, next year.