Sean Penn’s annual gala for CORE, to be held tomorrow (Jan. 15) in Los Angeles, has a rich musical history. Past years have featured Chris Martin, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and more. And the 2019 show brought together, among others, Billie Eilish and Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam.
“I went to Portugal. The Man and they were so cool about being a house band. So Portugal. The Man is actually gonna be the house band,” Perry says. “They’re gonna come out with this artist from Germany named Henning May, he is amazing. They’ll do a couple of their songs, then Jenny Lewis will join them, then Dwight Yoakam, and at the end it’ll be Beck, Dwight Yoakam, Jenny Lewis and Portugal. The Man closing out the evening. So it’s going to be music throughout the night with this awesome band performing all night long, which I think is so fun.”
Perry’s We Are Hear got involved last year and after a successful first foray into the gala and seeing how it works she saw opportunity to bring about some changes. “Last year they were in a bind because they were trying to get Cat in but he couldn’t get in and they needed a lot of help. Then they wanted more artists just in case Yusuf couldn’t get in. So they asked me to come on board and help them do the event,” she says. “So I brought Billie Eilish in, I brought Macy Gray and my team helped get Yusuf in the country to get the deal done. Then we kind of produced the show with them because they’ve never done anything with so much music. And it was a great show.”
To Perry, having Eilish there was a huge step in the new direction of the event, which is intended to be more welcoming to people of all ages. “Having Billie Eilish, I got her right on the cusp. That girl was flying out the door. And to have gotten her last year and where she is now, that’s just cool,” she says. “The one thing I felt that was missing was the younger audience. When you walk into that room it’s freaking intimidating. There are a lot of hoo-hoo people in there, it’s massive. And you’ve got people bidding at one million dollar. It’s like, ‘Oh my god. What about some of the hipsters and kids that want to support in a different way? Can they be here?’ So that’s what I spoke with them about and Sean was all about it. And the team this year about reaching out to more youth, to the young leaders that are blossoming all over the place. Those will be in this room this year. And I think last year introducing Billie Eilish, someone who is very youthful, very outspoken, very hip, really did help because people saw that and they’re like, ‘Oh, this must be a cool event.'”
Ann Lee, ceo of CORE, concurs with Perry that the youthful influx is a welcome new direction, as she talks about what music has meant to the event in the past. “At our gala, thanks to the generosity of the artists who participate, the musical performance is often the highlight of the night, inspiring our guests to open their hearts and inciting their generosity to allow us to do our life saving work,” Lee says. “This year, we are working closely with Linda Perry and her incredible vision for the night, one that focuses on youth leadership and combating poverty and social injustice, and are incredibly grateful to the performers who are donating their time to make this year’s gala our best ever.”
Perry, who has long been regarded as one of the most connected artists in the industry, seems to have found yet another career as an in-demand event planner she explains. And that is how Beck got involved, as she pitched him on it backstage at the recent Heaven Is Rock And Roll event in L.A. Yet another We Are Hear event, it featured Beck appearing with the remaining members of Nirvana.
“I was sitting backstage and Beck was praising the event, going, ‘This is amazing, I’ve never seen a charity event like this. Do you do this often?'” she recalls. “And I said, ‘Well, lately it seems like I am. In fact, next week, I’m doing the one for CORE and I have Dwight Yoakam and Jenny Lewis.’ And he said, ‘You know I produced both of their albums.’ I said, ‘Maybe you want to get on stage and play a song with them.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that.’ And that’s how that showed up.”
For Perry, when curating a lineup, she says she has to get the feel of the event. And this event, she says, reflects Penn. “For this one, I wanted something light, yet fun, but had an Americana feel to it because that’s what it felt like to me. Sean Penn is a man. That guy is an American man,” she says. “He is rugged, I adore him. So that’s the kind of music I wanted. I wish I could’ve got Bruce Springsteen, but I didn’t. But I just wanted to have something that had a light feel to it, but was still hip and had American roots to it. And to me, the lineup is perfect.”
Perry first met Penn in 1992, but doesn’t really know him. That doesn’t matter to Perry, who is so connected in the artist world in part because of her fearlessness. She tells a great story of how she and Penn connected last year.
“Last year he I was doing the sound check and getting everything together and I just saw him pacing back and forth. He is a very sensitive guy, such a big heart and very worried about the event. He just wants everything to be great,” she recalls. “So I went up to him, I stopped him from pacing, I grabbed his face, I held on to his face and I said, ‘Everything is gonna be okay, just breathe.’ And he just let go of this sigh of air like he hadn’t breathed in 24 hours. Then I just walked away. But I felt like right there something happened where he and I connected. And I could imagine people probably don’t do that to him.”