Everyone’s Sunday best made an early appearance for Friday night’s MusiCares event at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It didn’t matter if you were a music business attorney or host Russell Brand; your hairspray was extra-strength and your shoes were shining. And since the charity, now in its 30th year as a part of the Recording Academy, decided to celebrate the music and philanthropic efforts of Aerosmith, there was far more animal print and bedazzled satin than years past.
During the silent auction, guests bid on a variety of goodies that included guitars signed by Dixie Chicks, Sammy Hagar, Dave Grohl, Lady Gaga, Melissa Etheridge and Shawn Mendes alongside classic photos of everyone from Jimmy Page and Janis Joplin to Metallica and Nirvana, music-related art, gear, fancy travel packages, jewelry and the ability to spend one hour in Steven Tyler’s closet. (Okay, that last part wasn’t true, but a writer can dream.)
Amazon’s Steve Boom – in his first year as chair of MusiCares – touched on the organization’s mission and introduced the entertainment. Boom discussed the unfortunate darkness that hides behind the music industry’s veil of glamour and reminded everyone that “when members of the music community need help, MusiCares is there… Because of you, we’re able to offer programs that provide everything from emergency financial assistance to medical assistance, addiction recovery and disaster relief in times of crisis.” He then brought up Cheap Trick, saying “what better way to celebrate an iconic American band than with another iconic American band?”
“The world of music is changing. The world in general is changing,” Brand said in his first speech of the night. “Just backstage, there is green juices and vegan cheese!” He pointed out that the mushrooms were nutritional and not magic and admitted to hearing animalistic noises coming from a room before showtime. “I thought, ‘Yes! The spirit of rock lives on…’ but they were just doing pilates back there.” He insisted that the stage was where the rock and roll really happens. “[The acts] are gonna knock your sexy little socks off, they’re gonna blow your mind, they’re gonna make you go all bendy weak at the knees. The Dionysian spirit of rock WILL be unleashed! But without the self-destruction. Now it’s all about love.”
Brand mentioned how special the night was for someone 17 years clean of drink and drugs. “Because it’s the music industry, I know you know how hard it is. And those of you that ain’t cheering, it’s because you’re fucked up right now. Don’t feel like hypocrites because we’re at MusiCares. Just enjoy it; do it off your hand! Don’t sneak off… Just know that the safety net of MusiCares will be there when you inevitably shrivel up.”
After the laughter, Jonas Brothers made time to serenade guests with Aerosmith’s 1993 ballad “Crazy.” Ashley McBryde, with a smirk that screamed “hold my beer,” appeared focused and fully in charge during “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” Gavin DeGraw charmed the room, jumping down onto the floor and high-fiving everyone as he sang “What It Takes.” He even found Tyler’s dinner table, where he stopped when the singer leaped up to join in with some signature howls. Kesha was accompanied by a classical string section for “Janie’s Got a Gun” – the namesake of Tyler’s charity, Janie’s Fund. Yola and Gary Clark Jr. incited a standing ovation, showcasing real rock & roll gusto and raw talent.
Elsewhere, John Legend was very John Legend behind a piano for mega-hit “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.” Jessie J insisted there was real pressure going on after Legend; luckily, she has the pipes to handle such a feat. Melissa Etheridge and Nuno Bettencourt made those six-strings their bitches on “Walk This Way.” Speaking of six-strings, Sammy Hagar and Orianthi were electrifying, and Hagar was probably the only person in the room capable of that opening “I’M BAAACK” screech that kicks off “Back in the Saddle.” LeAnn Rimes, Luis Fonsi and Emily King also performed.
Foo Fighters were the only act given a pair of songs to tackle, injecting some punk into both “Let the Music Do the Talking” and “Toys in the Attic.” It got real loud, and Dave Grohl laughed, “I don’t know how Steven Tyler fucking screams like that for more than two songs.”
The Recording Academy’s Tammy Hurt and Christine Albert spoke in place of CEO Deborah Dugan, who was placed on administrative leave and is currently in the middle of litigation against the Recording Academy. The elephant in the room felt more in-your-face than Tyler’s lips. That said, conversations weren’t really centered on the drama. Industryites see the charitable arm in a different light, and rightfully so. For the most part, Friday was focused on the music.
Hurt and Albert invited out Tyler’s longtime attorney and friend, Dina LaPolt, and praised her for founding “the only firm of its stature owned by a sole female attorney.” LaPolt was responsible for introducing the guests of honor, who were given commemorative awards. Drummer Joey Kramer, who attempted to sue the band to allow him to play at tonight’s event and Sunday’s Grammy performance and was barred from performing, appeared arm in arm with Tyler. “People only really get interesting when they start to rattle the bars on their cages,” remarked Kramer. Was that statement a reflection of that rock and roll spirit everyone had been channeling, or was the rattling he was referring to going on within? Who knows, but he did go on to express gratitude for MusiCares and his “ever-supportive” wife.
As for the big moment, Aerosmith took everyone back to 1975 with “Big Ten Inch Record” before Tyler morphed from righteous frontman to shimmering pianist for “Dream On.” That was when the critically acclaimed H.E.R. got to show off her guitar skills and lent her voice to a verse and a chorus. “Sweet Emotion” was, well, sweet. And “Train Kept A-Rollin’” was a hoot and a holler and everything in between. Everyone on stage seemed to be having a ton of fun, including Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp.
And people were ready for it, thanks in large part to LaPolt’s speech, which felt inspiring and pumped people back up after five hours of drinking, schmoozing and eating. She reminded everyone why they were there. “The guys in Aerosmith are a sure thing,” LaPolt said. “You could set your clock to how they work. … They show up for people they love and care about … The most inspiring thing about them is that they make their families a priority all the time. They all have wives and children and grandchildren and family friends old and new. And ex wives! And they all do things together all the time. It is inspiring! They show up!
“This is a group of guys that would drive six hours to see someone they love for five minutes,” she added. “They will make times in their schedules for birthday parties, family dinners, graduations, anniversaries, celebrations, memorials and funerals. They put their families and people they love first no matter what, and they have shown up for me.
“As many of you in this room know, I’ve dedicated most of my professional life to fighting for the rights of music creators to be able to control the rights to their music and be paid a fare wage,” LaPolt concluded. “Over the past several years, they have always been there to lend their names to this fight … They are relentless; their energy levels are unparalleled and they always do the right thing … They show up.”