It’s difficult to put the memories of the Memphis Does Bowie benefit into words, but I am going to try.
As organizer of the event, which benefited St. Jude, I was already excited at the prospect of seventy-five musicians from eighteen bands coming together for a night of great music. The anticipation didn’t even come close to matching the reality of beautiful performances and collaboration. Backstage, musicians rehearsed Bowie songs, met, encouraged one another, talked, laughed, and ate donated Central BBQ while drinking off the kegs Cash Saver generously provided. The crowd settled in around 6pm as Another Green World hit the stage and kicked off the night with a three song set. That was the beginning of a six hour night of tribute that included over seventy Bowie songs.
Later in the night, Richard James convulsed on the ground to “John, I’m Only Dancing,” looking upwards at Anne Schorr as the thumped the bass. Mick Parrish and The Incredible Hook brought the crowd to tears with an “Under Pressure” that I believe actually gave some people “one more chance.” Jack Oblivian barked out “Diamond Dogs” to an enthused crowd of rockers. During his set, possibly one of my favorite moments of the night erupted as John Whittemore sang lead for the first time ever on “Oh You Pretty Things.”
From the opening line to the final chorus, all the backstage musicians sang along and swayed as the energy of Minglewood Hall became highly electric. During my own band’s set, my friend Jacob Church sang “Let’s Dance” as 1200 people did just that and the excitement backstage flowed onto the stage as musicians from other bands joined the dancers, percussionists, and background singers that already had the stage space at near capacity. Following that, Clay Otis and Luke White performed a finale set of seven songs featuring many from Bowie’s “Low” album. The image and sound of Clay and Luke’s contrasting but complementary voices still rings in my head. The final song of their set, “All the Young Dudes” culminated in every single musician joining the stage and singing along. Then came the cherry on the sundae, “Heroes,” once again performed by everyone involved, but with the added element of eager audience members jumping onto the stage from the floor. I truly believe that the grand finale featured the largest group of Memphis musicians ever assembled on one stage at one time. It was as if not a single one of us could believe what was going on. We may have been winging the song, not sure who was singing what verse, dancing and smiling even more than the audience, but we were definitely having the time of our lives.
From Tiffany Harmon bringing an intimate vibe with her performance to The Sheiks ripping through “Rebel, Rebel” with fury; from Crockett Hall singing “Five Years” along with the entire audience, to Graham Burks putting on a one man Bowie remix extravaganza; from Zigadoo Moneyclips laying down an epic “Fame,” to Electric Eye rocking their set with supreme guitar talent including Paul Taylor; from Super Witch bringing people to their feet and fists in the air to Staniel Brown vocalizing “Rock and Roll Suicide” with ease; from Chris Johnson and crew rocking “Suffragette City” to the Subtractions gripping the night with “Boys Keep Swinging” with guest vocals from Lorette Velvette; from Brian Sharpe and Co. slaying “Changes” while an old and young man danced side by side to Jesse Davis singing while winning the night with his stunningly accurate Bowie style, the night was a blast that will always be remembered as a night that changed a lot in town.
From changing the spirit of the local music scene to changing the lives of children with nearly $20,000 raised, the David Bowie Tribute benefit for St. Jude was one for the ages.
Graham Winchester is a Memphis musician who plays w/ The Sheiks, Jack Oblivian, Devil Train, The Maitre D’s, and solo.
Photos Courtesy of Jamie Harmon of Amurica.