By L Paul Mann
The latest installment in the Best Fest came to the Fonda theater in the heart of Hollywood for two sold out performances on February 9th and 10th. The Best Fest, which began in New York, is a star studded charity event bringing well known film and music personalities together to perform benefit concerts for Sweet Relief. According to the organizations website; “Sweet Relief Musicians Fund provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems. In other words, Healing Musicians in Need.” The Best fest has had several installments in the past including celebrations of the music of Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, George Harrison, and Brian Wilson. This years concert took on one of the most complex projects yet, featuring the music of Fleetwood Mac.
A small army of performers took up the challenge this year led by the Cabin Down Below Band. Fronted by bass player Austin Scaggs (Boz Scaggs son), the 10 piece band has been the anchor for the show since its inception. It was interesting to note that a house full of music critics invited the first night tended to savage most of the participants for over the top performances and not adhering to recreations that were loyal covers of the Fleetwood Mac songs. But in their reviews the following day most seem to miss the point entirely. The mix of actors and musicians who teamed up in various combinations, actually made the music their own but putting their unique spins on the daunting task of playing such complicated music. The all volunteer line up, most of whom had never played together before, had varying amounts of success tackling the complex harmonies of Mac music, but nearly everyone onstage gave a passionate heart felt performance. For the critics that really mattered, the music fans in the audience, the response was an overwhelming positive and emphatic one. On the second night, the band opened with a perfunctory but rousing version of Tusk that attracted the hoards of music fans huddled around the bars sponsored by Jameson whiskey, into a swarm around the stage. Then the onslaught began with different performers taking over the lead vocals for one song and then handing the microphones to the next singers, no less than 25 times. Emily Armstrong lead singer of the rock group Dead Sarah, a veteran of Best fest, brought a Jim Morrison persona to her stunning version of “Edge of Seventeen,” even diving into the crowd at one point. The hot young LA band Phases, with former members of Phantom Planet and Rilo Kiley, played a funky version of “Everywhere”; brining it into the 21st century. Juliette Lewis, also a veteran of Best fest and many other charity events throughout Hollywood, gave a whirling Dervish performance to Nicks’ signature solo hit “Stand Back.” The performance was so intense, it had many in the crowd wondering what was going on backstage besides the Jameson. Their were other Hollywood celebrities on the bill as well, including; Danny Masterson, who played guitar for “Second Hand News,” while Will Forte played the part of Tom Petty to Karen Elson’s Nicks in a rendition of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”
Courtney Love took the stage in a long purple gown with a strategic slit up the middle, which she used to flash the crowd at the beginning of her rendition of “Silver Springs”. She first thanked the band “For putting up with so many Divas,” then launched into a sultry hypnotic version of the song which she made her own with her unique grunge age vocals. Speaking of hypnotic, Perry and his wife singer Etty Farrell gave a positively trance like performance off the song “Gold Dust Woman”.
Rock prodigy were on hand as well with Dhani Harrison playing guitar for Australian EDM vocalist Mereki on the song “Landslide”. Bijou Phillips joined actors Danny Masterson and Adam Busch for their version of “Second Hand News”. There were also plenty of musicians on hand to spice things up as well. Both Jamestown Massacre and Cold War Kids, played acoustic covers of “Man of The Word” and “Never going Back Again,” respectively. Doyle Bramble II reached deep into the old Fleetwood Mac catalog in the days of Peter Greene and played a spellbinding version of “Black Magic Woman”. Brian Bell of Weezer played a wailing guitar for Karen Elson and Will Forte on “Stop Draggin My Heart Around”. Mark Ronson played guitar for The Kills singer Allison Mosshart on an electrifying version of the song “Dreams”.
There were so many incredible performances in the near four hour set, there are too many to mention. But a wide eyed Sarah Silverman performing “Go Your Own Way,” with guitarist Butch Walker has to get an honorable mention. The 26 song set list ended with two major jams involving many of the musicians of the night, featuring renditions of, “The Chain” and “Don’t Stop”. Most of the entire crew returned for a final bow that engrossed the entire stage. It was a brilliant night of music custom med for the historic Fonda theater in the heart of Hollywood.
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