An all-star lineup that catapulted across generations and genres entertained an attentive and packed Club Nokia audience with stunning vocals and searingly emotional songs during a stylish ALL FOR THE HALL fundraising concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on March 4th. Each artist focused on intimate acoustic performances that highlighted their voices and the power of well-crafted lyrics while spinning personal stories that swung from heartfelt to amusing.
“This is such a big thrill for us,” said Ann Wilson of Heart, who was joined by her sister Nancy on acoustic guitar and harmonies and by Heart’s bassist, Dan Rothchild. “To come up here and sing with these incredible folks, I’m just a little breathless because of it.”
The singer cited Vince Gill, the evening’s ringleader and a friend the Wilsons met more than thirty years earlier, when Gill was lead singer in Pure Prairie League, and the two bands performed shows together. Ann also mentioned their excitement to share the stage with Emmylou Harris, who, like Gill, is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Filling out the main lineup of stars seated on stools across the stage was relatively younger artist Jason Mraz, who received praise from the veterans at his side after each of his performances. The evening also included three guest performers—newcomer Cam Ochs, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Holly Williams and actress and singer-songwriter Rita Wilson, who hosted the event.
When Gill introduced Heart, he noted that they were members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ann Wilson replied that both the rock and country halls of fame were interlinked, saying there wouldn’t be a rock hall of fame were it not for country music, the blues and other early forms of American popular music. ‘It’s all tied together, really,” she said.
Mraz, for his part, said he jumped at the invitation to perform, mainly so he could sit next to the legends beside him—and listen and learn.
The concert was modeled on the Nashville institution of a “guitar pull,” a casual set-up in which performers take turns presenting songs while the other artists look on or add harmony and instrumentation. The format allows for relaxed interaction between performers, and the ALL FOR THE HALL participants freely spoke from the heart about their inspirations and about what moves them about country music and good songwriting. It created a cozy, friendly atmosphere between the performers and audience members—and between the artists themselves, some of whom were meeting for the first time.
The concert didn’t feature a set list. The performers decided what to sing on the spur of the moment, inspired by what someone else had just played or by the mood they were in when their turn came. More than once, an artist took a moment to reflect on what they wanted to play before striking the first note.
“Thank you for joining us for a night that we know will be full of fun, fellowship and music,” said Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. He went on to explain the long history of the Nashville guitar pull tradition, including famous ones held in the living room of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. “The guitar is passed from one songwriter to the next, there’s no set list and there are no restrictions,” Young said. “The hallmarks of a good guitar pull are spontaneity, camaraderie and high spirits. That’s a long-winded way of saying we don’t have a clue what’s going to happen tonight.”
The proceeds of the concert, Young continued, go to carrying on the preservation of the museum’s unduplicated collection, “considered the finest of its kind in the world.” The ALL FOR THE HALL concert series began in New York in 2007 and repeated there in 2008. The series moved to Los Angeles for three successful years before returning to New York in 2013. The 2014 concert marked the return to the West Coast—at a time when the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum features an exhibit titled The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country. “We are delighted to be back,” Young said.