Big bands come out for Stones, Robert Johnson benefit concerts
While political junkies are breaking out their checkbooks to donate to their favorite candidates, rock, blues and soul musicians are descending on New York this month to raise money for causes near and dear to their own hearts.
Over the next seven days, two major musical charity benefits will take place in the city. The first, on Tuesday at the Apollo Theater, celebrates the 100th birthday of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, who died in 1938 at age 27. The other, on March 13 at Carnegie Hall, celebrates the music of some of his most famous acolytes, the Rolling Stones, who mark their 50th anniversary as a band this year.
Johnson's songs have been covered by the Stones, Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton, among others. The benefit concert, which will raise money to build the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, will include performances by the Roots, Shemekia Copeland, Bettye LaVette, Taj Mahal, Keb' Mo' and Todd Rundgren.
Unlike a typical concert, the show will feature not only songs, but also a theatrical retelling of Johnson's life story, including the myth that he sold his soul to the devil in order to learn to play guitar.
The Stones tribute concert will feature 21 artists playing all the songs from the greatest hits album "Hot Rocks 1964-1971." The performers include Rosanne Cash, the Mountain Goats and TV on the Radio.
The eighth in an annual series of Carnegie Hall tributes, the Stones concert will raise money for music education programs for underprivileged kids. Past concerts have saluted Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M.
Occasionally the guest of honor shows up for his own party, leaving fans - including Michael Dorf, producer of both benefit shows - wondering whether Mick and Keith might make an appearance.
"I'm told it's unlikely they'll perform," Dorf said. "But it's on their calendar, so you never know."
Secrets from the shows' producer
Concert producer Michael Dorf hasn't had much time to sleep these past few weeks, organizing two benefit concerts and working to get a Chicago outpost of his City Winery up and running. amNew-York spoke to him during a rare break in the action.
How hard is it to stage two benefit concerts so close together? It's certainly twice as hard. The Robert Johnson project came up after the annual Carnegie Hall date, but it felt like such an important project ... I didn't want to pass it up.
How do you select the performers? You listen to the material and try to match what you think would be an interesting voice to the song. I'm like a kid in a candy shop, taking my favorite songs and matching them with my favorite artists.
Why is it so important to raise money for music education programs? With cuts in public school funding, the programs that end up getting chopped first are always the arts. Especially in underserved communities, music, band and art [classes] become important reasons for kids to stay in school.
If you go: "Robert Johnson @100" is at the Apollo Theater on Tuesday at 8 p.m., 253 W. 125th St., 212-531-5305, $48.50-$128.50.
"The Music of the Rolling Stones: Hot Rocks 1964-1971" is at Carnegie Hall on March 13 at 8 p.m., 154 W. 57th St., 212-247-7800, $48-$150.