By Laura Ferreiro
An impressive array of stars including Johnny Depp and members of The Strokes, The Black Keys and Kings of Leon came out to perform at a massive benefit concert last week to support Sweet Relief, the non-profit that helps musicians facing illness and disability in need of urgent assistance.
The all-star ensemble delivered two lively benefit shows at the El Rey Theatre, performing a slew of classic Tom Petty tunes at the event dubbed Petty Fest West. The events were put on by Best Fest, the music-biz trio of Alex Levy of Epic Records, long-time Rolling Stone scribe Austin Scaggs, and renowned tour drummer Matt Romano, who served as the backing band for many of the night’s performers.
Har Mar Superstar kicked things off with a rousing rendition of “Don’t Do Me Like That” before a parade of actors and renowned musicians offered up their versions of Petty tunes including “Break Down” (sung by Butch Walker) “Learning to Fly” (featuring Landon Pigg and “Parenthood” actress Mae Whitman) and “Refugee” (fronted by Alberta Cross crooner Petter Ericson Stakee).
As the evening rolled on, the star-power got brighter and brighter, with Strokes members Nick Valensi, Fabrizio Moretti, Albert Hammond Jr., the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney and Johnny Depp making their way to the stage. Supermodel/singer Karen Elson (also known as the former Mrs. Jack White) took a few turns with Nicole Atkins on “Last Dance With Mary Jane” and other Petty classics.
Later, Jared Followill from Kings of Leon took over bass duties with Depp on guitar and Matt Sorum of Guns ‘N Roses on tambourine for “Here Comes My Girl.” A memorable moment came when comedian Sarah Silverman delivered a comical version of “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” repeatedly shouting “Hey!” at the top of her lungs before going on a rant about a former lover that won’t leave her alone.
Depp appeared incredibly comfortable on stage in full rock-star regalia, wearing a striped red and black shirt with several chains around his neck and floppy hat adorned with a feather. One of the evening’s highlights came when he joined The Strokes’ Valensi and and Moretti for the feel-good classic, “American Girl.”
By the end of the night, the crowd was in full sing-along mode, probably spurred on by the free whiskey that flowed all night courtesy of event sponsors Jameson Whiskey. “The fact that Jameson came in and sponsored the nights allowed us to give all the proceeds and make a significant contribution to the musicians who really need it,” Sweet Relief Executive Director Rob Max told Music for Good. “And the people at Best Fest who are behind it put together a great model that music fans love.” There have also been Dylan Fests and Stones Fests for charity, and Scaggs hinted there would be more.
Leading into the grand finale, Scaggs thanked the packed house for being there. “Every penny from the tickets you bought will go to Sweet Relief,” he said, before whole motley crew came back out on stage to sing one final number: “Free Falling.” It wouldn’t have been a Petty Fest without it.