The show was part of Recording Academy charity's "House Concerts" series, fundraising to provide assistance for those in the music community during times of need.
Peter Frampton, Jewel, hit songwriter Marc Beeson, A&R guru Tracy Gershon and Academy of Country Music CEO Pete Fisher were among those gathering in Sheryl Crow's barn Monday night, as the Grammy winning songstress and her band performed an intimate concert to benefit MusiCares, the Recording Academy charity that provides assistance for those in the music community during times of need.
"Sheryl's been a great friend to the Academy for many years," Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow told Billboard before the show in a small church Crow had built on her property. "As MusiCares has evolved and developed more and more artists learned about us, loved the mission and found ways to participate ... Sheryl is very aware what the organization does and now that we've embarked on this program we call 'House Concerts,' it's an opportunity for artists to participate in a new and different way. What Sheryl is doing is a little out of the ordinary in a good way because she's opened up her home for us and hosted this event right here."
Attendees mingled downstairs, munching on hors d'oeuvres and petting Crow's horses in their stalls before going up stairs to the spacious room where the concert was held, decorated with more than two dozen guitars on the walls. "I'm just really happy I could throw the Paul Manafort going away party," Crow joked as she stepped up to the microphone, referencing President Trump's former campaign manager, who had surrendered to the FBI after a federal grand jury indictment by Robert Mueller's special investigation unit.
Crow introduced then her longtime friend and collaborator of more than 20 years Jeff Trott and gave fans a little history on the venue. "We write in this room. We record in this room. We have a lot of friends come in and record from Vince [Gill] to Kris Kristofferson to Chris Stapleton. So many people have come in and left their juju in this room. Our motto is always, 'Dare to Suck.' And so I reserve the right, since I've invited you in, to totally suck," she said as the audience roared with laughter. "We've never done this, just sat and played songs we've written, and we've written for 23 years. Most of the songs I've written that have paid for the guitars in here, I've written with him [Trott]."
She kicked off the performance with her 1996 hit, penned with Trott, "If It Makes You Happy." She followed with "Long Way Back," from her tenth studio album, Be Myself, released last April. "This is part two of 'Every Day is a Winding Road,'" she said before singing "Long Way Back." "I don't know if you guys have noticed but I'm older now. And there's just something really awesome about all the lessons you get when you're older. 'Every Day is a Winding Road' is looking at the road in front of us, but this last record was really looking at the road from where we are right this second, and also what we've learned from where we've been."
Throughout the evening, the audience was totally engaged as Crow, Trott and her gifted band delivered classic hits such as "Soak Up the Sun," "A Change Would Do You Good" and "My Favorite Mistake," mixed with fare from her latest album such as "Be Myself," "Alone in the Dark" and "Roller Skate." She says the latter tune was inspired by her two young children. "They're characters," she said with a grin. "And their whole thing is, 'Mom, get off your cell phone!' So I really have made a pact with myself that I don't have my cell phone on me, except I have it on silent and I check it just when they're not around. I'm a terrible friend now because I'm not the immediate text back, but it's been really wonderful. I don't have memories of my mom on the phone. The phone was connected to a cable to the wall. I just don't have that memory. I have a memory of my mom's facial expressions and that's what I want my kids to remember."
Crow says her sons and their friends came in the studio when she was recording "Roller Skate" and ended up singing on the track. "There were five of them and they came up with the name 'The Five Bucks.' I paid each of them $5 and they are on the record," she said. "This song is called 'Roller Skate' and the whole idea is to put your phone away and do something fun."
The tone of the evening was very warm and conversational with Crow sharing anecdotes and joking with the crowd. She also took a moment to thank Portnow, the Academy and all those who bought tickets for the event. "This means a lot to me personally," she told the audience. "MusiCares is a phenomenal organization and they've helped friends I've known personally.... We hope that you'll go to MusiCares.org/donate and tell your friends."
She closed with "Every Day is a Winding Road," her 13th and final song of the evening, noting it had become her theme song through the years. Before the crowd dispersed, Portnow made a couple of presentations. He gave Crow a CD recorded by Michael Ruff, a special memento as Portnow first met her when she was singing back up for Ruff decades ago in California. He also presented Crow with the Recording Academy President's Merit Award for "artistry marked by an unwavering commitment to authenticity and integrity and for heartfelt advocacy on behalf of artists' rights and women's health."
Frampton was among those who came out to enjoy the music and support the cause. "We've had two people that work for me, that if it weren't for MusiCares, wouldn't be here," Frampton told Billboard after the show. "It's very near to my heart. They've been so incredible. You give back where you can. It's amazing what they can do."
Crow is the first artist to host a house concert for MusiCares at her home. According to Portnow, many of the events are hosted by board members, but anyone can host such a concert. "If you have a home that has capacity for people, and if you love music and would like to have a personal performance in your home of an artist that you love, we -- meaning the Academy and MusiCares -- will facilitate that," says Portnow, noting they've done shows with Michael McDonald, LeAnn Rimes, Ed Sheeran, Chris Martin and other artists at homes around the country. "What you need to do as the homeowner is invite a hundred of your best friends and charge them lots of money to come that evening and see the performance. Those proceeds go to MusiCares."
Founded in 1989, the organization has a long history of serving the community. "MusiCares is there to help music people in our community in times of need and crisis," Portnow says. "Most people in music, particularly the creative side don't have steady jobs. They don't have a company they work for. They don't have the regularity of a pay check every week or the benefits of health care."
Portnow gave an example of a drummer who heads out to the store to buy milk for his family, trips on a step, hurts his ankle and is unable to play his regular restaurant gig for a month. In such circumstances, MusiCares steps in and helps with necessities like paying the mortgage and buying food. "It's anonymous. Nobody has to know about it so it's not embarrassing in any way," he said. "We'll do a simple application, make sure you qualify and then we'll come in and take care of the bills for the time you're recovering and until you're back to normal."
MusiCares has a separate division that helps with substance abuse and addiction. "It specializes in helping people get sober and in recovery and that's life saving work," he said. "We've all seen, this year in particular, how big this crisis is."
MusiCares also provides assistance to victims of natural disasters. "When Katrina hit in the Gulf, I remember watching -- like we all were -- with horror the pictures coming in from the scene and how devastating that was. I thought, 'New Orleans is a big music community and they are going to be hit pretty hard, what can we do there?' ... We were fortunate to have one of our staff people who lived in New Orleans and knew almost everybody. He was deployed on the scene and we helped a lot of people get back on their feet. That experience gave us a template and understanding of how to manage that kind of situation so when the floods hit here in Nashville, we had a plan and experience. We were out here in the community helping people get back on their feet."
MusiCares has been actively helping those affected by the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. "We have already helped over 700 folks in the music communities, mostly in Houston, some in Miami," says Portnow, "and we've put out in excess of $700,000 in aid in that effort and that's going to be continuing."