Thursday, February 19, 2009

Neil Diamond's Classics Transcend Genres At 2009 MusiCares Person Of The Year - by Sarah Tither Kaplan

The 19th annual MusiCares® Person of the Year celebration proved to be a perfect way to pay tribute to the legendary Neil Diamond and to support a most necessary charity that provides relief for those members of the "musical family" who are in need, and a fantastic celebration of music. The gala honored Neil Diamond, and his prolific and iconic career. An array of artists including Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Jennifer Hudson, and the Jonas Brothers performed Neil's songs from every era of his five-decade-long musical odyssey.

Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, the event featured both a silent and live auction to benefit the MusiCares charity, which provides funds and relief for musicians in need. The performances spanned almost every genre of music — a testament to the fact that Neil's enduring work is as timeless as it is diverse. The Jonas Brothers were first to pay tribute with their performance of "Forever in Blue Jeans." According to Kimmel, the Jonas Brothers led off because they had to be finished by their bedtime.

The "JoBros" were followed by Jennifer Hudson, performing a soulful rendition of "Holly Holy." Hudson didn't even have to break a sweat to bring down the house with her emotional, passionate voice delivering a flawless performance and receiving a unanimous standing ovation. After Kid Rock presented a more country-inspired side of Neil Diamond's music with "Thank the Lord for the Nighttime," Jimmy Kimmel was inspired to dub the event "the best karaoke night ever."

British singer Adele, who won the GRAMMY® for best new artist two days later, sang "Cracklin' Rosie," one of Neil's "most misunderstood songs," as Kimmel explained to the audience. Urge Overkill performed the song, "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," which they made famous again by covering it for the film Pulp Fiction. "Thank you for all the music, Neil," lead singer, Nathan Katruud, called out to the audience before leaving the stage.

Coldplay's performance of "I'm a Believer" was definitely a crowd favorite. Lead singer and songwriter Chris Martin introduced the band as "Neil and the Diamonds," and adopted the original performance style of the Monkees — who first made the song a worldwide phenomenon — and encouraged the audience to sing along.

Each performance was prefaced by an introduction explaining the origin of the song, or Neil's inspiration to write it. One of the more strange inspirations was the movie E.T., which inspired the song "Heartlight" which was performed by R&B singer, Eric Benet.

Diamond's good friend Raul Malo performed "Solitary Man," followed by Cassandra Wilson and Terence Blanchard performing a jazz version of "September Morn."

Neil Diamond introduced Tejano band Los Volcanes, who performed a Tejano version of "Red Red Wine", by saying that when he had tried to get Eddie Vedder to perform, he accidentally wound up calling the Los Volcanes' Eddie Rodriguez, and after hearing their music, he decided he liked it so much that he invited them to play at Person of the Year, proving once again the genre-transcending power of Neil's music.

Foo Fighters performed a mosh-pit worthy hard-rock version of "Delirious Love." Josh Groban, Tim McGraw and Chris Cornell offered even more diversity with operatic, country, and grunge-rock inspired versions of Diamond classics. Overall, the night boasted an eclectic mix of performances spanning all areas of the musical spectrum.

When it came time for Neil to accept his honor, he was almost in tears as he thanked the audience; "Thank you for showing up," he said. "I love you for it." Neil explained the origins of his life in music; his mother had bought him his first guitar for ten dollars, and as she was in the audience, he thanked her for it. He assured her that it had been a good investment and that with the ten dollars, she had "made a life" for him.

Neil seemed more than happy to express his gratitude by performing a few of his own songs and closing the show with "Sweet Caroline." All the performers of the night, including Faith Hill (who performed "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" with Neil) returned to the stage and sang the final choruses as Neil hugged each artist. The running joke of the night was that the Person of the Year gala was really the Bar-Mitzvah that Neil never got to have. With his unrivaled success and indisputable talent, Mr. Diamond certainly deserves as many "mazel tovs" as humanly possible.

Despite selling 160 million records worldwide, the whole business of being honored in such a way seemed almost overwhelming to Neil. His refreshing humility was evident when he offered the audience the truth about his motivation as an artist; "I just make my little songs, sing my little songs, and try to reach out and touch people."

By: Sarah Tither Kaplan - GRAMMY Camp 2008 Music Journalism Track

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