LOS ANGELES — There was no shortage of electrifying performances at MusiCares Person of the Year, which teed off Grammys weekend with a glitzy auction and concert Friday at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Throughout the nearly four-hour event, rock artists old and new including Foo Fighters, Don Henley, Gary Clark Jr. and Cage the Elephant took the stage to honor singer/guitarist Tom Petty, 66. But it was the night’s legendary headliner that had fans springing from their tables and rushing to the front of the ballroom, where Petty performed a five-song set with his band The Heartbreakers.
Backed by all-female group The Bangles, Petty launched the show with Waiting for Tonight, before inviting longtime friend and collaborator Stevie Nicks onstage for two classic duets: Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, which Petty wrote for her 1981 debut album Bella Donna; and Insider, off his album Hard Promises that same year.
Afterward, Petty brought out Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne for a rousing rendition of their 1989 collaboration, I Won’t Back Down, which brought the entire crowd to its feet.
The three-time Grammy winner signed off with fan favorite Runnin’ Down a Dream, joyously capping the Grammys’ most successful Person of the Year event ever. This year’s gala raised a record-breaking $8.5 million for MusiCares, which provides financial, medical and personal assistance to musicians and industry professionals in their times of need.
“I’m so beyond honored to be here for MusiCares, something that does something for musicians,” Petty said before his performance. “I know people that this has directly affected; they’ve helped so many people.”
He continued to shout out “great American songwriters” in attendance such as Jackson Browne and Randy Newman, and voice his support for younger rock acts including The Head and the Heart and The Shelters, whose self-titled debut album he produced.
Along with an amusing anecdote about “earning” the right to wear his signature sunglasses at night, Petty also shared the unlikely story of how his signature tune, Free Fallin’, almost never came to be.
“I had written this song, Free Fallin’, and taken it to my label, and they rejected the record,” Petty said. “That had never happened to me before and I was like, ‘Wow, what do I do?’ And I forgot about it.” But after an industry dinner one night at record executive Mo Ostin’s house, George Harrison “was like, ‘Let’s get the guitars out and sing a little bit. Let’s do that Free Fallin’, Tom.’ We did it and (music producer) Lenny Waronker was like, ‘That’s a hit.’
“I said ‘Well, my record company won’t put it out,’ ” Petty continued. “And Mo says, ‘I’ll (expletive) put it out.’ “
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