My boss is probably a little pissed at me because I sang myself hoarse last night screaming and clapping along with all 27 or so songs that were played. I don’t care. It was a night to celebrate one of America’s greatest treasures, Thomas Earl Petty, and I wasn’t about to let the threat of a day not being able to speak above a whisper stop me from having a good time. After stops in LA and Seattle, it was finally Chicago’s chance to host The Cabin Down Below Band and their cast of all-star guests, and it was an event no one will soon forget.
The main players took the stage and launched into their opening number, “Cabin Down Below.” Immediately any doubt of them not being up to the huge task of honoring Petty flew out the window. You may think of them as a “cover band,” but these cats can play with anyone. Especially their lead guitarist who had the double duty of paying tribute to Petty as well as Mike Campbell, and he did both as admirably as one could hope.
The guest stars all showed up with their game faces on. It’s all in good fun, of course, but for the most part everyone seemed to take getting the songs right pretty seriously. I was surprised by some of the performances-people I thought could easily phone it in or get by on their name alone ended up being some of the best of the night. Case in point, Danny Masterson and Adam Busch from the show Men At Work. Not only did they knock “Yer So Bad” out of the park musically, but Busch’s stage presence was incendiary. I was shocked (SHOCKED!) by how good they were.
The night was full of really big highlights, but my favorites were as follows: Jimmy Chamberlin of Smashing Pumpkins came out to play drums while Cory Chisel sang “It’s Good To Be King.” The song also featured an awesome guitar solo by Robert Ellis that I was not expecting at all. Kelly Hogan came out with Pat Sansone and John Stirrat (of Autumn Defense and some other band called Wilco) to do “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” and I really feel like if Kelly were a little older she could have easily taken Stevie’s place on the original.
The two biggest surprises came in the form of very different but equally insanity. In a show that never lacked for energy, Jesse Malin came out and “Wreck”-ed the audience with his take on Petty’s “You Wreck Me.” After flying from one side of the stage to the other he got down into the crowd and directed a short sing-a-long before returning and falling over the railing of the photo pit.
Lukas Nelson came out to play guitar on earlier songs, but his moment to shine was “Refugee,” and he took full advantage. He was like a spastic teenager on speed as he jumped, kicked, and wailed his way through the song. Between climbing on the drum set and making mouth love to his guitar, he also played the hell out of that tune. Keep that in mind the next time you see Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real are coming to your town.
I really don’t know what else to say about the show. I haven’t even mentioned the great performances by Butterfly Boucher, Wild Feathers, Jakob Dylan, Butch Walker, Brendan Benson, Allison Mossart, Ruby Amanfu, Erika Wennerstrom (Heartless Bastards), Nikki Lane, Eric Pulido (Midlake), Dave Davidson (Maps & Atlases) and Ewan Currie (The Sheepdogs). Literally everyone was fantastic and I wish we could do this every night!
Petty Fest was a benefit show sponsored by Jameson with all ticket sales going to Sweet Relief. The charity provides funds for career musicians who are in need of financial help in case of medical emergencies, disability, or age-related problems. You can find out more about their cause on their website.