Like a living room of local legends: Hootenanny for Haiti @ the Showbox 02.28.10

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Some of Seattle’s finest put on one helluva hootenanny at Showbox at the Market to help victims of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January.

A hootenanny by definition is pretty much an informal participatory musical gathering of friends and family where everyone either plays instrument or sings along to their favorite songs. And that’s exactly what was delivered Sunday night right down to the stage decor, which included several couches and votive candles for lighting.

The show had a very casual down home feel but this was no family jamboree. The musicians on stage were some of the biggest stars Seattle has contributed to rock ‘n’ roll including Mike McCready, Duff McKagan, Matt Cameron and Kim Warnick to name a few. It was like you were being invited into a living room of local legends for a jam session in the form of a near three-hour concert that contained so many major players from the local music scene, both past and present, that all of them couldn’t be contained on the stage. It was an awesome mix of the old guard teaming up with some of the city’s fastest-rising talent for an unforgettable night.

The first set of the evening mostly kept things on the softer, acoustic side with health doses of country twang. Musicians shuffled off and on the stage and each time a new singer took to the microphone (which was pretty much every song) a fantastic cover of well-known song by a dream lineup of Seattle musicians was born.

Want a band consisting of a few Fastbacks and a guy who was in Green River? Done. How about a Soundgarden member teaming up with a guy from the Screaming Trees and a former Vendetta Red guy? That was doable too. Or maybe you’d prefer pairing Pearl Jam’s guitarist with a rising alt-country songstress and a member of Sweetwater? Not a problem. As you can see, there were some pretty cool band cross pollination happening. Only in a city like Seattle could such fantastic combinations happen. Prince, Echo and the Bunnymen, Neil Young and the Psychedelic Furs were a few of the artists covered which added to the show’s feel of excitement.

Warnick came out of her self-imposed retirement from music to sing a punked-up version of Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth.” Kristen Ward’s cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” was absolutely beautiful and stayed faithful to the original. Mark Pickerel tried his hand at Tom Petty’s “Even the Losers,” with the band giving the song a lower, deeper tone to match Pickerel’s voice. The song was one of three Petty numbers to get covered (there were also three Rolling Stones songs and two Beatles songs that made the set list).

Later during the set McCready clutched the microphone stand while walking around the stage and slapping hands in the crowd as he sang the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.” It was great to see him get as animated playing the role of frontman as he does when he’s shredding with Pearl Jam. Another standout McCready moment came during Mad Season’s “River of Deceit.” It was the first time McCready had played the song since his Mad Season Days. Jeff Rouse of Loaded, McKagan’s latest band, handled vocals and he did the song justice.

Aside from the Mad Season moment and Warnick’s successful return to the stage (if you’re curious she retired in 2004) the other star of the first half of the night, and perhaps the entire night itself, was Star Anna. The Ellensburg native made an impact on the crowd early with her delivery of the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” It was one of the best Beatles covers I’ve heard. It made such an impact that the crowd immediately started cheering for her when they noticed she was getting up off a couch to take the microphone for the second of several songs she sang throughout the show. Her first Beatles cover was one of her best performances (she also covered “Don’t Let Me Down”) and she also hit homeruns with her rendition of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” delivered as a duet with McKagan, and Otis Redding’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is.” The latter was one of the best songs of the night.

The second set started off with a surprise in the form of a song by Brad, a band featuring Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard and Satchel’s Shawn Smith. Gossard had come out for a song during the latter portion of the first half of the set so his appearance wasn’t a surprise. However, Smith wasn’t expected. I’m a little rusty with my Brad but I believe they performed “Cupcake.” Whatever it was they played it sounded really good and you wouldn’t have been able to tell that they were out of practice, if indeed they were.

Smith later came back to the stage for another surprise moment when the group performed Mother Love Bone’s “Crown of Thorns” with McCready and Gossard on guitars, Matt Cameron behind the kit and McKagan on bass. Hearing that song performed by that group of musicians, all of whom have suffered tragic losses and some have had experiences with addiction problems, was a bone-chilling moment that gave me goosebumps. It was the highlight of a night filled with highlights.

A “Crown of Thorns” appearance in a set list a tough thing to top but the all-star cast of musicians almost did so near the end of the evening by breaking out some Stooges. Warnick returned to the stage, telling the crowd she first met Duff when he was about 13 years old, and then strapped on a guitar to shred alongside McCready to “I Want To Be Your Dog.” McKagan was letting out his inner Iggy handling the vocals and near the middle of the song he yelled out “C’mon McCready, take it!” After which McCready let out a fierce guitar solo, punctuating an already electrifying evening filled with surprises. At that point and time I felt like I had died and gone to rock show heaven.

Of course the show was put on for a good cause and there were lots of ways people to contribute while at the show. Posters autographed by all of the performers could be purchased for $40, lots of Pearl Jam schwag was raffled off during the intermission and people were encouraged to donate $10 to the Red Cross via text message.

If you weren’t able to be at the show but would like to have a piece of memorabilia from the night you can bid on a Gibson J-160E standard acoustic guitar. It was played at the show by both McCready and McKagan and is autographed by both guitarists. The money from the auction goes to the Haiti relief efforts. To bid click on this link and search Hootenanny for Haiti.

A partial list of player from the Hootenanny for Haiti:

Mike McCready (Pearl Jam)
Duff McKagan (Guns N Roses, Velvet Revolver, Fastbacks)
Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden)
Stone Gossard (Pearl Jam, Green River, Brad)
Shawn Smith (Satchel, Brad)
Kim Warnick (Fastbacks)
Star Anna (Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs)
Kristen Ward
Mark Pickerel (Screaming Trees)
Jeff Rouse (Loaded)
Rick Friel (Shadow 86)
Rebeqa Rivers
Justin Davis (Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs)
Tim DiJulio (North Twin, Flight to Mars)
Ty Bailie (Dept. of Energy, Flight to Mars)
Chris Friel (Sweetwater, Goodness)
Kim Virant (Lazy Susan)
Gary Westlake (Kristen Ward, Maurice & the Cliches)

*** Mike McCready  and set list photo by Jason Tang. Click here to see a full set of photos from the show.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.