11 December 2016, The Theater at Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, CA
When thinking about how I would describe this outstanding event I wondered what I could add to the detailed reviews in the LA Times and Billboard, the links for which are at the end of this report. While I can certainly speak to the excellent musicianship, the thoughtful choice of songs to represent Linda Ronstadt across all the genres of her repertoire – country, folk, rock, pop, standards, Mexican and more – and the seriously outstanding singing from the female performers on the bill, the greatest impression on me, what mesmerised and touched me, was the outpouring of love for Linda on stage, on the video tributes, and in the audience.
Of course she wasn’t there to witness it but the producers assured me before the show that Linda was very much across it, had given the event her blessing, and was sorry not to be there.
Jim Ladd spoke in his introduction of Linda’s significance and her unmatched talent; we all knew that but it was nice to hear it from someone who is so qualified to say so. The array of artists who came along to offer faithful interpretations of some of her signature songs – Sarah and Sean Watkins, Grace Potter, Gaby Moreno (best vocal of the night), Dawes, Brandy Clark, Lucius, Sarah Jarosz, Aoife (I really had not heard of the latter four but my goodness they did Linda proud) – were earnest, joyful and mellifluous.
There were glaring omissions, people who should have been there and weren’t because they either were not available (Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt) or sadly were never asked to participate (Karla Bonoff, Rosemary Butler), but Dolly Parton’s video tribute, lengthy and very sweet, was some compensation for her own absence.
The big name artist performances – those who had been with Linda from the beginning and were there to pay testament to the longevity of those relationships – were Maria Muldaur with a gorgeous rendition of the McGarrigles’ “Heart Like A Wheel”; David Lindley (Linda’s cousin) with a perky quirky performance of Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”; JD Souther predictably but very tenderly singing solo acoustic on his sweetest, saddest ballad “Faithless Love” after announcing that he had loved Linda deeply for 45 years; Jackson Browne giving us Lowell George’s “Willin’”; Aaron Neville reading a speech on his mobile phone about his profound connection with Linda before singing “Don’t Know Much”; and then Don Henley with what could only have been the climax of the show, “Desperado”.
When this event was announced and I saw that Jackson and JD were headlining, I immediately knew Don would also appear, and probably as a surprise guest. Nobody else could have or should have been tapped to sing “Desperado” in Linda’s honour. When I interviewed Linda back in 1998, and asked for some comments on the song, all she would say was, “Well, that’s Don’s song.” She felt no proprietary right to it. And it is Don’s song, and Glenn’s, and in their gracious and grateful acknowledgement of Linda’s part in making the song as iconic as it is, they always made it clear that it is very much her song, too. So Don being there to sing the song he closed Eagles shows with for so many years and now closes his solo shows with, was, I felt, mandatory, but also a sincere gesture of reverence and great affection, to both Linda and to Glenn. “Desperado” is my favourite song of all time, has always been, will always be, and coming after the holiness of Aaron Neville’s tribute and the candour of JD’s professed adoration, Don’s performance was the pinnacle of a hugely emotional night.
There were two encore numbers with Jackson and the girls who’d graced the stage through the show, but they were superfluous, because for me it was all about those three men – JD, Aaron and Don – and the tender hearts they opened in our presence that night. And about Linda, a woman I am so glad to have spent significant time with in person, in her home town of Tucson, when she was so generous with her memories and her views on music, and to have also spent time with at a distance as a fan and a worshipper of great songs sung by one of the greatest voices of all time.