Ten years ago, Vince Gill co-founded the All for the Hall benefit concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Tuesday (Feb. 13) night in Manhattan’s Playstation Theater, the annual fete brought together Gill, Emmylou Harris, Maren Morris and Kesha for a one-of-a-kind performance to raise money for the museum’s music education programs. One of those programs, Words & Music, was spotlighted when Carly Pearce, Liz Rose and Phil Barton took the stage with a cadre of Bronx 5th graders to perform “We Are the Song,” an inspirational sing-along that the students themselves wrote with some help from the aforementioned pros.
Aside from the kids, here are five standout moments from what is undoubtedly the only Guitar Pull (an acoustic evening where country artists play songs and share stories) you’ll see in Times Square until… well, probably until the All for the Hall concert rolls back into New York City.
Maren Morris Pays Tribute to Route 91 Victims
Morris recounted the long gestation of her song “Dear Hate” for the crowd, explaining that it was written immediately after the Charleston shooting but put aside because she was “not sure what to do with” it for a while. Eventually, she turned to Vince Gill for a little help, and he was so taken by the song that he not only added guitars to the demo but recorded himself singing the second verse. After another tragic shooting, the one in Las Vegas at Route 91 Festival in 2017, Morris decided it was finally time to share the song with the world, with some of the proceeds going to the victims. Gill joined her on the song and by the end, both of them — not to mention the audience — were choking back tears.
Emmylou Harris Avoids the Blues
When you think Emmylou Harris, you think of that achingly gorgeous voice — and some seriously sad songs. But to start the night out, the country/folk/Americana icon put melancholy aside for a second to sing “one of my happier, non-tragic songs,” which she dedicated to her grown-up children: “We still love ’em even though they’re not cute anymore,” she laughed. The song? “Love and Happiness” from her Mark Knopfler collaborative album All the Roadrunning, which proves she can sing about nice things just as effectively as she can chill the bone with time-honored tales of tragedy.
Vince Gill Sings About Abuse Victims
While most of the songs performed Tuesday night were familiar ones, Gill sang a new one he recently composed after watching the #MeToo movement unfold. Entitled “Forever Changed,” the song was a quiet, heartbreaking account of a woman’s sexual abuse. “Too afraid to tell someone, might as well just use the gun,” he sang. “She cries to Jesus to ease the pain / it’s because of you she’s forever changed.” After he finished, Harris lauded him. “Good for you,” she said. “I do think that music can change hearts and minds with lyrics like that. With all the hysteria going on, sometimes you just need some simple words to make a point, so thank you.”
Kesha Makes Country Pop
With a country songwriter for a mother and a few honky-tonk-flavored songs on her last album Rainbow, Kesha has some Nashville bona fides — and plenty of fans in Music City. When she closed the night with an acoustic take on her Hot 100 top 5 hit “Your Love Is My Drug,” Maren Morris gleefully joined her voice with Kesha’s to sing backup — and toward the end, even Vince and Emmylou were singing along with the chorus.
Maren’s Church of Crow
For an acoustic night of music preceded by a sit-down dinner, the All for the Hall benefit was beautiful, but not exactly raucous. But when Morris busted out “My Church,” people were stomping along and even dancing, as if suddenly seized by the Holy Spirit of music. Fascinatingly, Morris explained that song was born out of a conversation with her co-writers about how much they loved the drums on Sheryl Crow’s early recordings — something you can’t not hear in “My Church” after knowing that.