Gram Parsons Tribute – Santa Barbara

So the last time I checked in I was off to spend a long weekend in the sunny Southern California community of Santa Barbara. The draw? Good friends, good music and good wine. Left the laptop at home and headed up the coast.

Highlight of the amazing weekend was a benefit concert paying tribute to Gram Parsons, the legendary musician who wasted his life away at 26 years old in Joshua Tree over a heroin and tequila binge in the early 70's. He left behind not only his music legacy which attributes the blending of rock n' roll and country music — some now like to call this genre “alt country” or even “Americana”. He influenced The Rolling Stones and from his short career with The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers he has inspired Emmylou Harris, Wilco, Beck, David Crosby, Steve Earle, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch and many others.

The lineup Friday night was incredible: Keith Richards, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Jim Lauderdale, John Doe and many others. Richard's attributes Parsons' influence to Stones' albums Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers. To me, the most amazing influence of Parsons' is on “Dead Flowers” and certainly “Wild Horses.”

[…] Richards has said that Parsons “probably did more than anyone to put a new face on country music. He brought it into the mainstream of music again. … I think I learned more from Gram than anybody else. … Gram changed the face of country music without anyone even knowing it. He was just a very special guy. He was my mate, and I wish he'd remained my mate for a lot longer.”

Rather than bowl you over with details on Gram Parsons live (I urge you to check out the website about the concert which occurred on Friday night in Santa Barbara and Saturday in Los Angeles at the Universal Amphitheater). Instead I'd like to point out a few highlights of the show in Santa Barbara.

First, I was so impressed by the performance of Dwight Yoakam who belted out a high-energy version of “Sin City” that left me jaw-dropped and thinking that's Dwight Yoakam? And I thought I'd always prefer him as an actor (remember Sling Blade?)

Heartfelt performances by siren's Lucinda Williams and Norah Jones left me yearning for more. Each artist performed only two songs. Lucinda and Norah both brought musicians from their respective touring bands. But perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was Keith Richards when he rolled on stage just after Norah finished her last song. Grabbing the sultry and sexy youngster he shuffles up to the microphone and mumbles in a slightly alcohol induced (this is Keith Richards after all) English cockney something about how he gets to perform with Norah. With a cigarette dangling between his fingers and a beaded headband keeping his hair out of his face he goes on to say “I've got say a couple things about G.P.”. Then he launches into “Love Hurts” made popular by Nazareth in the 1970's, and song Parsons' didn't write but recorded for his Grievous Angel album. Soon Richards is calling to the rest of the band for help on the vocals. We now know without question why Mick sings Richards' tunes. He just cannot sing. It's pathetic.

Next he says “I haven't ever sang this song… and I'm not sure if I can remember it.” The band jumps into Wild Horses and thank god after one verse Norah, Jim Lauderdale, Steve Earle and others help with the song. Not that I have anything against Keith Richards but he may have hit the nail on the head hear at a tribute concert of a true music legend who dies at 26 years old, “If only the good die young, where does that leave me?”

An amazing show. And if you've never been to the Santa Barbara Bowl, it's perhaps one of the nicest venues I've ever seen a concert in Southern California. Check it out.