Among the highlights from the evening:
Gill’s voice…on anything
In the first of his four performances, Gill opened the evening alone onstage with a divine cover of one of Rodney Crowell’s most revered compositions, “’Til I Gain Control Again.” It’s a song Gill’s sung hundreds of times (as have other performers, including Harris, who originally cut it in 1975). Gill even noted that it was the first song he sang as a 19-year old at his first performance in Los Angeles at the Troubadour, opening for Guy Clark. And yet, 43 years later, he still imbues it with a wrenching poignancy as if he is discovering new truths in it every time. Volumes have been written about Gill’s high lonesome voice, but he still managed to invoke chills last night with his singular, stripped-down delivery.
Combs’ new material
Combs performed hits “When It Rains it Pours” and “Hurricane,” but it was his previously unreleased material that showed the growth he’s experienced as a songwriter the last few years. “Dear Today,” a song that Combs has been playing live and will be on his Nov. 8 album, What You See Is What You Get, is a letter from his future self telling him to mend his ways before it’s too late and take time to call his mom, share a drink with his dad and put a ring on his girlfriend’s finger (which he has done). He shared that it had been written after his meteoric success messed with his head a little bit. The second song was so new that it didn’t have a title yet but was a sweet ode to his parents about how even though he was the one in the spotlight, the sacrifices they made were what made his career possible.
Harris’ & Crow’s otherworldly harmonies
Each woman performed songs solo, but when the two sang together, the molecules in the room shifted, especially on “Juanita,” a song the two previously recorded together for 1999’s Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons. With Crow taking high harmonies, the result was breathtaking. “I don’t vape, I don’t smoke pot. Singing with Emmylou Harris is my kind of high,” Crow said. We can relate. The two then sang “Nobody’s Perfect,” re-creating their duet on Crow’s new album Threads, as well as a haunting version of “Evangeline,” which Harris sang with The Band for 1976’s seminal Martin Scorsese-directed The Last Waltz. The musical chemistry was undeniable, but equally evident was their sisterly, supportive bond: Harris couldn’t stop grinning and enthusiastically drumming on her knees as the crowd sang along to Crow’s hit “If It Makes You Happy.”
Combs’ endearing humility
Let’s face it. Right now, it’s Combs’ world and we just live in it. He is the most successful solo male country artist to come along since Garth Brooks. And yet, Combs seemed a little overwhelmed and awed to be sharing the stage with three legends who have a combined total of more than 100 years of professional experience compared to his five. “I’m in shambles up here,” he laughed at one point. Gill, Harris and Crow were as welcoming and supportive as they could be, even when the audience seemed there for Combs above all others, rowdily hooting and hollering during his numbers. He knew he was among giants, playfully admonishing his fans, “If y’all could just calm the redneck down a little bit.” It turns out Gill was Combs’ first concert when his mother snuck him into a show when he was 6. “I thought your name was ‘Vince Skittles,’” Combs said, before adding he hoped he could have the impact on people’s lives through his music that his stagemates have had through the decades.
Don Henley’s figurative presence
Gill, of course, is now part of the Eagles, having joined the band following Glenn Frey’s 2016 death, so he joked, “Please don’t get me fired,” when Crow decided to tell a story about her old boss -- she toured with Henley as a backup singer -- and Gill’s current boss. In 1995, the morning after Crow won a Grammy for best new artist following the staggering success of her Tuesday Night Music Club album, Henley faxed her a full list of past best new artist winners, many of whom have never been heard of again. Henley added, “Good luck in the future, Love, Don.” (Maybe he was still bummed that Eagles lost best new artist in 1972 to America, though it turned out quite well for his band despite not capturing the trophy.)
Elysian Height Elementary School’s performance
The evening opened with a reminder of where the dollars raised by All for the Hall go. A video piece captured hit songwriters Liz Rose and Phil Barton and singer/songwriter Tenille Townes traveling to the Los Angeles public school to write a song with the fifth-grade class. The students then came onstage and performed “We Could Rule the World for a Day,” an ode to all the positive changes they would make if the planet was in their hands, from cleaning up the oceans and finding shelter for the homeless to ending bullying. As a former music teacher, Crow stressed the importance of music education and Combs gave a stirring testimony to the role his chorus teacher at his public school had played in his musical development.
“Til I Gain Control Again,” Gill
“Home Sweet Home,” Harris
“Every Day is a Winding Road,” Crow
“Dear Today,” Combs
“A World Without Haggard,” Gill
“Juanita,” Harris and Crow
“Nobody’s Perfect,” Crow and Harris
“When It Rains It Pours,” Combs
“A Letter to My Mama,” Gill
“Evangeline,” Harris and Crow
“Redemption Day,” Crow
Untitled new song, Combs
“Whenever You Come Around,” Gill
“Old Yellow Moon,” Harris
“If It Makes You Happy,” Crow