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How Tribute Shows Bring Out the Fan in Rock Stars: 'We All Turn Back Into Teenagers'

Perry Farrell and Etty Lau Farrell perform at The Best Fest Presents Fleetwood Mac Fest
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Perry Farrell and Etty Lau Farrell perform onstage at The Best Fest Presents Fleetwood Mac Fest at The Fonda Theatre on Feb. 9, 2016 in Los Angeles.

Courtney Love, Taylor Hawkins, Perry Farrell talk about celebrating their musical heroes.

Some of the biggest star power during Grammy week in L.A. wasn’t found at Grammy events. It was onstage at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood at two separate events celebrating the music of Fleetwood Mac and the Doors.

Between them, the Best Fest tribute to the music of the Mac and a celebration of the life of late Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek brought out Mark Ronson, Courtney Love, Carly Rae Jepsen, Perry and Etty Farrell, Juliette Lewis, Cold War Kids, the Foo FightersTaylor Hawkins, Jane’s Addiction’s Stephen Perkins, Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes and X’s John Doe and Exene Cervenka, among others.

Both shows had a charity component, with Best Fest donating proceeds to Sweet Relief and Sweet Stuff and the Doors show benefiting Stand Up To Cancer. Love and Dead Sara’s Emily Armstrong, who appeared at both shows, said the charity aspect was important for them to come out, particularly since Sweet Relief and Sweet Stuff help musicians in need.  

“It was really good people, really good charities and other musicians I respect being involved, like Perry,” Love tells Billboard of what initially attracted her to the show. “And musicians need taking care of, especially now.”

“Of course I have to do it, it’s a charity for musicians like myself,” Armstrong added.

While the philanthropic aspect is unquestionably a big part of what attracts musicians to participate, once they hit the stage it’s the chance to tap into their original music fandom that keeps them coming back.

“We all turn back into teenagers singing our favorite songs -- [Bob] Dylan, [Tom] Petty, Fleetwood Mac, George Harrison -- this time not in front of the mirror but to an actual audience," Best Fest regular Elson says. "It's a good time for a good cause."

For Hawkins, it was his appreciation of the Doors that got him excited to share a stage with the remaining living members of the band, Robby Krieger and John Densmore. “I fucking love the Doors," he says. "They’re one of the most unique bands of all time."

To him, there’s an excitement, too, about playing a show with no agenda other than being a fan. “It brings you down to the basic fucking core, which is the love of playing and interacting," he says. "There’s no tour, you just get up and play. It’s a shot of adrenaline."

Best Fest co-founder Alex Levy has seen that, recalling the time Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen came to jam with them for one song and had so much fun he stayed for an entire night. “We invited Donald Fagen, he came to rehearsal and played with us and said, ‘You guys are pretty good,’” Levy recalls. “He looked up at the rest of the list and said, ‘I know these songs, can I sit in with you guys?’”

Levy’s Best Fest partner Austin Scaggs credits Norah Jones with opening the door to music superstars.

“I think when I noticed the big shift was maybe seven or eight years ago, Norah Jones came to one of our shows, I think it was a Dylan Fest,” Scaggs says. “That was the moment it kind of changed for us, because we were attracting guests that we were friendly with, but had also heard about what we were doing. So Norah jumping on board was so major. I think that’s when people felt more comfortable jumping on, the Perry Farrell’s, the Kings of Leon’s, Black Keys.”

As the visionary behind Lollapalooza, Farrell sees the tribute shows -- which unite a plethora of big musicians on one bill -- only growing in popularity, believing they bring intimacy back to live music as a counter balance to the massiveness of festivals. “People are starting to go out again and listen to live music on a smaller scale with these tribute shows,” he says.

As the Jane’s Addiction frontman, though, he says the shows are just about letting loose and having fun. “Most of us musicians just like to have a good time. And that’s what these tribute shows do: they bring us together, we have a laugh and act out our childhood fantasies of being rock stars.”

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