What do Bill Murray, a Real Housewife and a room full of the most celebrated singers in rock and soul have in common? They all spent their Thursday night (March 7) covering or gushing about their favorite hits for Love Rocks NYC, the third-annual star-studded fundraiser produced by John Varvatos and Greg Williamson to benefit God’s Love We Deliver.
The organization — which feeds thousands of people per day through delivering meals in the metro NYC area — sought out to raise $100,000, the equivalent of 10,000 meals, through the text-to-give initiative at the event. Murray, his fellow Saturday Night Live alums Chevy Chase and Martin Short, and Kevin Bacon were on hand to encourage attendees to donate, but their lively comments and gags paled in comparison to performances from Robert Plant, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Sheryl Crow, Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Hozier and many more. (The Housewife in question was Luann de Lesseps of the Real Housewives of New York, who didn’t hop up on stage herself but seemed to thoroughly enjoy the music from the crowd.)
Though the evening stretched on to a whopping four-hour run-time (and met God’s Love We Deliver’s $100,000 fundraising goal), New York’s Beacon Theatre stayed packed right on up to the star-studded finale of Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright.”
Every artist sang up to the standard of their surrounding outstanding company, but read on for a selection of standout moments from 2019’s Love Rocks NYC benefit.
Grace Potter sings Grace Slick: Love Rocks NYC kicked off with twirl of white satin thanks to a spin or two from Grace Potter and her smoldering rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” The vintage throwback set a nostalgic tone for the evening, as did her follow-up performance of Tina Turner’s take on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” complete with moves Ms. Turner would surely approve of.
Lukas Nelson reminds us of his frontman status: In a top hat worthy of Tom Petty’s closet, Nelson was a blues heavyweight thanks to an especially moving performance of “Forget About Georgia,” which came with a mirthful introduction name-checking his father, Willie Nelson. “I met a girl named Georgia, and then I had to play ‘Georgia On My Mind with dad all the time, and then I had to write a song called ‘Forget About Georgia!'” he quipped before launching into the track off his 2016 album Something Real.
Nelson’s name is frequently mentioned as a post-script to another, be it his father’s or Lady Gaga’s, as he collaborated with the pop star when they were both working on A Star Is Born. At Love Rocks, Nelson was just as worthy of the marquee treatment as the other illustrious acts on the bill: he may be the sideman of rock stars onscreen and off (and on this stage, even, as Crow and Plant invited them to join him for their respective sets), but he’s a headliner who continues to prove that he’s done right by his lineage and shows no sign of stopping.
Billy Gibbons pays tribute to another guitar hero: Those expecting ZZ Top cuts from the man boasting the most famous beard in Texas were greeted with the hard-rocking trio’s 1983 hit “Legs,” but it was quickly upstaged by Gibbons’ tinnitus-triggering cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.”
Robert Plant sings the oldies — but not just his: The lion-locked rocker has a range that skirts the clouds when he chooses, which made his divine, barely-above-a-whisper cover of Elvis Presley’s brooding “Don’t” such a treat. Surrounded by the back-up singers who roared with the house band throughout the evening, Plant was clearly delighted to defy expectations. (He did eventually meet them when he brought the Wilson sisters, Taj Mahal and more back to the stage for a raucous closer of “Shake, Rattle and Roll” for his mini-set.)
The return of Heart: Ann and Nancy Wilson haven’t hit the stage together since a hard-earned hiatus shortly followed a family dispute in 2016, and the mood at the Beacon was celebratory and vibrant even though the show was creeping up on the 3.5 hour mark when they took the stage. The dynamic sister duo started off slow with “These Dreams,” which (pleasantly!) surprised a room full of people expecting the blast of “Barracuda” or “Crazy on You.” The latter followed, and Ann’s cascading belt coupled with Nancy’s fast, furious strumming elicited feverish — and relieved — applause.
Buddy Guy brings the sass: The legendary Chicago blues bellower got a little frisky as “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” reached a fever pitch: the cheeky octogenerian offered up a few pelvic thrusts in between solos, which garnered howls from the crowd every time his Stratocaster bounced off his crotch.
A little Tuesday Night Music Club on a Thursday: In spite of a cringe-worthy introduction from Murray in which he praised her casserole and the “hot pants” she wore the first time he saw her, Crow soared through “If It Makes You Happy,” the snarling single, and the optimistic “Every Day is a Winding Road” off her 1996 self-titled album. “All I Wanna Do,” her breakout smash from her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club, sparked sing-alongs as well, and she tapped her longtime friend Nelson to join her for a smooth cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.”
Hozier goes from “Higher” to heavenly with Mavis Staples: Fresh off the release of his sophomore album Wasteland, Baby!, the Irish rocker warmed up with his take on Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Taking Me) Higher and Higher” before launching into his old hit (“Take Me to Church”) and closing with his new one (“Nina Cried Power,” which leads off the new LP). He brought out a special guest and dear friend for “Nina Cried Power,” the delighted Mavis Staples, who danced out to the tune of the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” before joining her pal center stage. Hozier relinquished the spotlight to the soul legend so that she could helm “Wade in the Water” on her own, and when she left, she waved to the crowd as a queen does when she’s bidding adieu to her subjects — totally fitting, considering how everyone in the room and onstage agreed she’s musical royalty.