NEW YORK – On the red carpet heading into the MusiCares Person of the Year concert at Radio City Music Hall Friday night, Keith Urban expounded on the influence of honorees Fleetwood Mac.
“That fusion of all the styles that they embody, between Mick (Fleetwood) and John’s (McVie) rhythm playing, Lindsey’s (Buckingham) influence – his chords – Stevie’s (Nicks) celestial, otherworldly thing and Christine (McVie’s) soul…it’s an amazing band,” he said.
For the next three hours, a parade of familiar musicians including Alison Krauss, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Little Big Town, Imagine Dragons, Zac Brown Band and Urban paid tribute to rock’s most brilliantly dysfunctional quintet by performing selections from their stocked canon.
There was a respectful “Songbird” from crystalline-voiced Krauss; a vocal-sharing “Gypsy” from the sisters in Haim; a sweetly bouncy “Everywhere” from OneRepublic; arm flailing and dark drama from Lorde during "Silver Spring"; and an oddly rearranged “Never Going Back Again” from Jared Leto and a full choir.
MusiCares, the foundation of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences that provides health and human services aid – such as emergency financial assistance, medical expenses and treatment for critical illnesses – to members of the music community, typically honors an individual artist for their musical and charitable contributions.
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Fleetwood Mac is the first band to receive the distinction since MusiCares was founded in 1993.
“We thought in a year when we’re doing a lot of unique things – being back in New York for the 60th anniversary (of the Grammys) and reinventing everything –if you think about the first band you want to honor, it would be hard to top Fleetwood Mac,” said Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy.
This year's event raised nearly $7 million for the foundation, Portnow said.
Indeed, a span of artists from Haim (“Stevie Nicks has changed my life!” Alana Haim proclaimed) to “Madam Secretary” actor and singer Erich Bergen (“Seeing Fleetwood Mac in concert is truly a religious experience – Stevie Nicks is one of the great ringmasters of all time.”) spoke on the red carpet about the band’s immense impact.
Other highlights from the concert came from two Georgia products – a buoyant “Don’t Stop” from the Zac Brown Band, with the addition of a signature breakdown of fiddle and boogie-woogie piano; and a dynamic “Dreams” performed by Little Big Town, with Karen Fairchild handling the delicate lead and Kimberly Schlapman filling in the harmonies, much like Nicks and McVie.
By the time Portnow introduced former president Bill Clinton – who received a rousing ovation, as did his “date,” Hillary, seated in the crowd – to present Fleetwood Mac with their award, fans were clamoring to hear from the night’s honorees, in words and in song.
Every member of the band except John McVie spoke, and did so with heartfelt gratitude. But it was Nicks’ often-amusing rambling (“I should have been a teacher, don’t you think?” she asked with a laugh) that stole the moment.
Nicks recalled her appearance at last year’s MusiCares event, when Tom Petty was honored and they sang their classic, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”
“The loss of Tom Petty has just about broken my heart,” she said. “He was one of my best friends. My heart will never get over this.”
She also noted that the pair spoke at length after the MusiCares show.
“Tom was ill. He was not well. He fought his way through that tour. God bless him, he got down to the river,” she said.
Petty died of an accidental overdose of pain medication in October, a week after completing his 40th anniversary tour with The Heartbreakers.
But there was still celebrating on Friday night, and Fleetwood Mac showed their generation-spanning appeal by including an ecstatic Harry Styles (who shared harmony vocals) on “The Chain,” featuring a bass rumbling break from John McVie and a frantic guitar solo from Buckingham.
Christine McVie sounded sublime on “Little Lies” and Nicks typically haunting on “Gold Dust Woman.”
As Buckingham noted before their performance, Fleetwood Mac has always been known as a band worthy of a soap opera.
But, he said, “not very far below that level of dysfunction was…love. (Fleetwood Mac) is now and has always been a group of destiny.”