Carnegie Hall Rocks for Rainforest...
Carnegie Hall was rocked alive - to keep the rainforest from dying.
Sting, Elton John, Billy Joel and James Taylor made music Thursday in tune with a seasoned audience that could pay $2.5 million in tickets - all to save more wilderness. And Stevie Wonder appeared just in time for a final star chorus of "Amen."
But this year's 10th annual Carnegie Hall event was mostly brassy and sassy, a three-hour stream of oldies steeped in Motown memories and strobes.
Gladys Knight, minus the Pips, and "The Impressions" - four fellows in yellow minus the late songwriter Curtis Mayfield - delivered some smoldering urban soul. Tom Jones belted out James Brown's '60s throwback 'It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World'.
And there was a tip to our time: Ricky Martin, gyrating his way through 'Light My Fire'. For once, he didn't quite set the crowd aflame; they greeted him with subdued enthusiasm. It was a hum-along night at the classical hall, turned steamy by a capacity audience of 1,800 bodies clapping and dancing in their seats. They even whistled along, led by Joel singing Otis Redding's 'Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay'.
Rarely do Carnegie's venerable walls shake with the music. They did on this night - to the deep, vibrant band of some of the greatest backup artists, whose beat had the audience rising up to the occasion, quite literally.
This annual occasion goes back a dozen years, when Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, met an indigenous chief in Brazil's Amazon region, where rainforests are being destroyed by multinational corporations.
"When the trees are bulldozed, a way of life is destroyed," Styler told an audience decked in everything from worn-out jeans and folksy tassels to drop-dead designer couture.
Fashion fun was also the order onstage. With Martin in a tux and Knight in a bare-shouldered gown, John stuck out in a white suit and shocking pink shoes. Sting whimsically introduced his fellow Englishman as "my boyfriend Elton John," who twirled a voodoo stick while turning on a gravelly echo of Screamin' Jay Hawkins for 'I Put a Spell on You'.
At one point, bright-colored Afro-style wigs flew from a few stars' heads into arms fluttering above the $2,000 front seats. And Styler delivered the message that goes with the money: The foundation will fund natives of Guyana to study law so they can fight their own battle to save their land. "They want to know how to help themselves," she said.
(c) The Washington Post by Verena Dobnik
The aftershow party was held at The Pierre Hotel. As we were transported from Carnegie Hall to the Pierre, we were able to see the Empire State Building which was coloured green in honour of the evening's event.
We entered up the stairs towards the dining room and were greeted by a carnival atmosphere. There were dancers and a steel band welcoming us, and show girls selling 'lucky' cigars. Each cigar was accompanied by a raffle ticket and winners could collect from an array of gifts. We continued into the bar where we were each handed a glass of champagne - it seemed only polite to drink it! Wanda and I waited in the bar area to do a spot of celebrity spotting. We saw Elton arrive with partner David Furnish, Howie from the Backstreet Boys and several of the cast from Carnegie Hall. We saw several flash lights go off downstairs and assumed that must be Trudie and Sting. With the guests of honour in the building we decided to take our seats for dinner.
This was an asparagus and tomato salad to start, followed by lasagne all washed down with plenty of fine wine. Before dessert was served the auction was underway. For this years auction, a professional auctioneer was hired. He was absolutely fantastic and really got the crowd going. On offer this year were some fantastic items including lunch with Courtney Cox Arquette, a meal on Billy Joel's boat, a walk on part on the television show Law and Order and an S-Type Jaguar, each raising around $40,000 each.
The most amazing part of the auction was without a doubt Sing-Along-With-Sting. This was a chance to do a soundcheck with Sting before one of his NY shows and be invited on stage that night to sing 'Every Breath You Take' and also receive two concert tickets. Bound to raise at least $40,000 I thought. As the bidding passed $60,000 Sting stood on top of his table and unbuttoned his jacket, teasing the two female bidders to continue. And they did. It was a two horse race and the bidding soon got to $100,000. Unbelievable. The crowd were on their feet cheering and clapping. The bidding finally ended with an incredibly generous $140,000! The lady in question could have had lunch with Courtney Cox-Arquette, a walk on part in Law and Order and driven away the S-Type Jaguar and still had change but I'm sure she'll have a lot of fun the next time Sting plays in New York.
Dessert followed, but the atmosphere was so high after the auction most people headed for the bar or to the dancefloor. There was a band playing latino music and of course the dancefloor was full. As it was getting late, we decided to have just a few more drinks and head back to our hotel.
As Sting was leaving, he had to walk past our table. He stopped to say 'Hello' and chatted a bit about the evening. He was very relaxed and said that he enjoyed the concert immensely. He stopped and posed for autographs and photos with a few well wishers who had gathered around our table, before heading home for a well deserved rest.
All in all, this was one of the better Rainforest Benefits. The concert was fantastic, the aftershow supper was fun and most of all, a huge amount of money was raised for a very worthy cause. We'll just have to wait until next year to see if they'll do it all again!
(c) Sue Bett for Sting.com
This year's Annual Rainforest Benefit concert was a rousing night of "soul" music, led off by the Impressions singing People Get Ready. Then Sting stepped forward to ask if people liked his outfit, a shiny, metallic brown Nehru jacket looking number. He said he did, until it was pointed out he looked like Dr.Evil!
After the song 'When a Man loves a Woman' Sting sang 'Tears of A Clown', a very good attempt, but reaching Smokey Robinson's high notes would be difficult for the best of singers. Macy Gray did a soulful interpretation of 'Baby, I Love You', followed by the always great Tom Jones doing 'This Is A Man's World'.
Billy Joel can always be counted on to really attempt to sound like the originals, and he really whipped up the crowd with 'Try A Little Tenderness'. Elton John's humorous side showed in his appearance in pink ladies shoes, while he introduced the Impressions again. Then it was Sting's turn at humour when he introduced Elton as "my boyfriend" who did his voodoo inspired tribute to Screamin' Jay Hawkins, 'I Put A Spell on You', complete with large stick with a skull on top.
Then the evening turned to the more traditional with Gladys Knight, who thanked Sting for bringing her finally to the Carnegie Hall stage. She sang 'Midnight Train to Georgia', sounding just like 20 years ago. Next up was 'How Sweet it Is', 'It Takes Two', 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough', in varying mixes of the singers.
Trudie gave a heartfelt speech and thanks for everyone's support, but also got the pleasure of introducing Ricky Martin. He sang 'Light My Fire', which segued into a Latin sounding song, which was a bit off the theme of the night, but his swivelling hips and sexy poses pleased some people, I'm sure.
Then another soul singer from the 60's, Martha Reeves came out and truly got people to their feet with 'Dancing In The Streets', accompanied by everyone. Sam Moore, of Sam and Dave fame was another guest who still carried the torch, doing 'Do you Like Soul Music?'. At one point during the show Dan Ackroyd of Blues Bros. fame came out, to join in on 'Soul Man'. Other highlights included 'Move On Up', 'Hold On, I'm Coming', 'I've Been Loving You For Too Long', a pastel Afro wigged group rendition of 'Disco Inferno', which was quite funny, and Billy Joel's excellent 'Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay'. Stevie Wonder was the surprise guest, lending his harmonica skills to the numbers. A rousing 'Amen', and a reprise of 'Dancing in the Streets' capped off the night.
During the last 2 numbers the guests went into the audience and brought some people on stage, including Ron Perlman, Revlon's head, and a very happy looking Carnegie Hall usher, who had been standing next to me, who really was into it. On the whole, looking back, I can't believe that over 25 songs were performed - the evening seemed to pass so quick. I'd say it's in my top 5 of the RF shows, the best still being the year Bruce Springsteen appeared. Don't know if there will be another concert next year, but as this was my 10th show, I'll still look forward to next spring.
(c) Wanda Stone for Sting.com
There are majestic moments in music when the magic of melody and rhythm wrap the soul in a soft blanket of rapture. Heck, that's way too mushy a description of the Rainforest Foundation's annual tree-huggers' ball. But the all-star concert Thursday night was a stupendous, once-in-a-lifetime night of music.
It was no wonder, considering the awesome star power at Carnegie Hall. Take a breath: Sting was there, as were Billy Joel, Elton John, Ricky Martin, Macy Gray, James Taylor, Gladys Knight, Percy Sledge, Tom Jones, the original Impressions, Sam Moore, Martha Reeves, Branford Marsalis and guitar legend Steve Cropper.
When too much ain't enough, toss in an artist like Stevie Wonder for the final moments on the concert's clock.
With a musical cast like that, how do you miss? You don't, but no one could have anticipated the incredible chemistry between the old Motown tunes - all great music - and these stars.
Billy Joel, whose fingers never touched the ivories, was soul man No. 1. When he was at center stage early for the song 'Try a Little Tenderness' and late for 'Dock of the Bay', he was a man possessed.
His singing, fancy footwork and hand jive were totally over the top. Just his selecting the very difficult 'Try a Little Tenderness' as his solo said it all.
For that tune, you need a big range, powerhouse vocals and the ability to sing at a different tempo than the band for more than half the song. Joel did all that with a visually and vocally arresting flair.
The next skyrocket was lit by Gladys Knight, on her seminal 'Midnight Train to Georgia', one of the sexiest, most passionate plays in the entire Motown songbook. Feeling the gravity of the event, Knight offered her tune with intensity that may have surprised even her. At the close of that song, the mostly sedate and sophisticated audience came unglued from their seats for a standing ovation in Carnegie Hall - possibly the highest honor any musician can earn. In an emotional moment, she revealed to the house: "I've wanted to sing in Carnegie Hall all my life... and it was the rainforest that got me here."
Of all the smart programming, getting Ricky Martin on the bill was the night's brainstorm. Though an oddball choice for the all-soul revue, the handsome young performer upped the performance ante for the rest of the cast. Martin delivered a passionate rendition of 'Light My Fire' - the soft, Jose Feliciano version rather than that of the Doors. Where he had sizzling success was on the fiery cover of Tito Puente's 'Oye Como Va'.
Giving Martin a run for his money was old Sam Moore, half of Sam & Dave. He's round in the middle and creaky in the joints, but he more than kept up with the Latin king when the duo sang backup for Elton John's campy cover of 'Disco Inferno'. Moore still has his voice, as he proved with 'I've Been Loving You Too Long'.
With a showman's savvy, he milked the song with soul wails, towering crescendos and sudden stops that tricked the fans into early applause. John, known for his sartorial splendor and love of fashion accessories, was the only divo to make a costume change.
He performed the late Screamin' Jay Hawkins' 'I Put a Spell on You', wearing a black suit-and-cape combo while shaking a lighted skull-stick at the fans for good measure. He later changed a into a less spooky ensemble that made him look like he was the captain of the Love Boat - but his pink patent-leather shoes stole the show.
James Taylor was smooth as ever, Tom Jones was outstanding, and the Impressions - wearing wild canary-yellow double-breasted suits - were timeless, offering many of the night's pitch-perfect backup harmonies. The action-packed event went quickly - starting a little after 7 p.m. and closing before 10 - and may well have been the finest pop concert ever staged in Carnegie Hall.
If this is the swan song of the Rainforest Concert series - as Trudie Styler, Sting's better half, hinted on NBC's 'Today Show' the morning of the concert - then the foundation ended with a bang, leaving those who never got to see one of these shows at Carnegie Hall whimpering.
(c) The New York Post by Dan Aquitalane