Concert For Social Justice April 8, 2015 – Fonda Theater Hollywood
By Andy Goldfinger
There are times I hate email, and then there are times I love email. For instance, when this one came about, the “Concert for Social Justice” with the likes of Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Melissa Etheridge and Tom Morello performing it was pretty much a no brainer. Not to mention it is being held at the Fonda Theater, one of the most excellent venues still left in Los Angeles. The event was sponsored by the Grammy Museum and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation which funds the organizations’ “Speak Up, Sing Out: Songs Of Conscience” program that gets kids K-12 to write songs about social justice issues. The evening also featured special performances from actors Dennis Haysbert, Catherine keener, Martin Sheen and Alfre Woodard, as well as the winners of the speak up, sing out songwriting competition.
The marvelous Rocky Dawuni performed his tune, “Shine A Light” from the new album, Branches Of The Same Tree was a true treat. I was not aware he would be performing so when he took the stage it was an excellent surprise. His message of peace and love and truth was echoed throughout the evening.
Up next was the Grammy winning group, La Santa Cecilia who I had the pleasure of seeing at the Whole Earth Foundation’s pre-Grammy party. Their Latin jams Led by La Marisoul got the entire place up and dancing. They have been featured on the Flying Eye from time to time. Their music is truly infectious, and it is tough to stay still when they are on the stage. Their version of Strawberry Fields Forever was incredible. Mixing multiple musical styling with each verse it was the most inventive rendition of the song I have ever heard.
Tom Morello is one badass dude. People were yelling for him before he even took the stage – and once there proceeded to just light the place up. He is a character, and loves to engage the audience. The Nightwatchman and his Freedom Fighter Orchestra had some technical difficulties (like, no sound from the guitar – “The rock can’t happen with no guitar.”), and while this was being fixed by a frantic crew Morello then proceeded to do what every concert promoter fears the most. He told everyone to move up closer to the stage for an up close and personal performance.
With the crowd now snugly up front like a good ol fashion Dead show, they lit into “One Man Revolution”, with its fresh verse change to say, “On the streets of South Carolina, they’re ready to blow” – referring to the murder of the unarmed Walter Scott, that this time was fully caught on tape. “Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine” pushed the house to its limits, and then went into “The Ghost Of Tom Joad”, dedicated to Robert F. Kennedy. Now, with the again changed line “Wherever there’s a cop shooting a guy … Look for me, Ma, I’ll be there!” We ALL need to be there now. When Morello to his guitar to do his teeth solo, he had a sign on underside of the guitar, “I Can’t Breathe!” What more can you say, he is a dude of the highest order.
Next up Melissa Ethridge and she starts by saying, “They said Social Justice, and I said ‘Yeah’”. One of the highlights was when Melissa talked about the ever present issue of the legalization of cannabis (That’s marijuana, pot, tea, weed, twak, herb), starting “Plant medicine is good medicine. The freedom to explore our consciousness is a very important freedom” the crowd went wild, as Californians have been known to do. She then launched into a stellar version of Brandy Clark’s “Get High”. It was most excellent, and we had to play Brandy Clark’s version on the Flying Eye.
She then got to introduce the next act which happened to be her Bio Dad David Crosby ad Graham Nash, and she confided that she’d originally thought of Jackson Browne as her sperm donor, but they went with David Crosby to be her childrens’ “Bio Dad”.
The boys were in fine voice, as these two usually are. They started with “Long Time Gone” and followed it up with “Military Madness”, a song that is still as poignant now as it was when it was first written over 30 years ago. Graham then headed over to the piano for the venerable, “Chicago “, and the everyone loved it. And then, as Graham said “It all starts with teaching the kids the right way,” introducing “Teach Your Children.” Anyone with a voice was singing, and pretty much yelled the “And know they love you!” part.
Kerry Kennedy said that when they were talking about the musicians they wanted for the concert, musicians who have dedicated their lives to singing – and acting – for social justice. “The first person I called was Jackson Browne, and he not only said yes immediately, he called his friends to join him.”
Jackson Browne, then came out saying just that. He’d always just wanted to sing songs about social justice, and so he did. His song selection that night clearly was about social justice . “Lives In The Balance”, “Far From The Arms Of Hunger” , “Looking East”, and then covering “I Am A Patriot” by Little Steven just got the place dancing again with its tribal beat.
As always no social justice jamboree would be complete without the obligatory All Star Jam. Tom Morello is one of the better ringleaders for this type of thing, he grabbed the mic and told the crowd, “No Social Justice concert would be complete without a Woody Guthrie song to anchor that shit (Sorry, kids – the fight for social justice is not always PG13)! … Whether you’re of the Occupy Wall Street generation or the Aquarius generation … This land is your land!”
All the artists returned to the stage, except for Crosby and Nash strangely. But, everyone else was there to rip out the “Alternative National Anthem” together as one. La Santa Cecilia’s accordion player added a lovely touch to this version, and folks took turns singing the ALL the verses, including the previously censored ones. It was especially great when young Jade Rhodes got her turn to take a verse, happily sandwiched between Tom Morello and Jackson Browne.