Don Henley, James Taylor, Ringo Starr, Chris Stapleton and Haim will perform alongside Joe Walsh to raise money for veterans organizations — a cause Walsh has been connected to since childhood.
Joe Walsh still remembers the loneliness. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer was only 20 months old when his father, who served in the U.S. Army Air Forces, died while on active duty in Japan.
“In the early years, I didn’t have a dad and everybody else did,” says Walsh, whose stepfather, another military man, joined their family when Walsh was around 7 years old. “I didn’t have a father figure, I didn’t have anybody to take me to a ballgame or play catch with, any of this stuff. … I just spent all that time wondering what my dad was like.”
Veterans issues have been near and dear to the legendary guitarist’s heart for a long time, but recently he decided to do something big. Last year Walsh launched his philanthropic organization VetsAid, anchored around an annual fundraising concert and modeled after Willie Nelson’s long-running Farm Aid shows. After an inaugural Virginia concert in 2017 that raised more than $400,000 for veterans nonprofits, Walsh is bringing his star-powered benefit show to the West Coast on Veterans Day.
The second annual event goes down this Sunday, Nov. 11, at the Tacoma Dome, with performances from classic rock greats Walsh and his Eagles mate Don Henley, James Taylor and country star Chris Stapleton. Soft-rock sister trio Haim joins the lineup, injecting a little youth. After the show was announced, another one of Walsh’s longtime pals, Ringo Starr (their wives are sisters), was added as a special guest.
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Why Tacoma? Walsh knew he wanted his charitable bash to hit different regions each year and the South Sound city — with an arena more than twice the size of last year’s venue in Virginia and proximity to Joint Base Lewis-McChord — gave them “the best shot we got at doing some good,” Walsh says. This year’s event also features a job fair for vets before the show at Tacoma’s Goodwill Milgard Opportunity Center. While in town, Walsh plans to visit the base to meet with local servicemen and women.
Beyond Walsh’s upbringing in a Gold Star family and watching friends return from Vietnam “completely different,” the 70-year-old was inspired to launch VetsAid by seeing a lack of resources to help veterans acclimate to civilian life after coming home from the “forgotten war” in Afghanistan. While local beneficiaries include AMVETS Department of Washington and the Hood Canal-based Salmon for Soldiers, VetsAid emphasizes supporting smaller veterans organizations, especially in the Midwest, where Walsh spent much of his youth. Such groups are often “all there is in the area and they have no budget,” he says. “They can save lives, they really can.”
For years now, Walsh has been dropping by the prosthetic ward at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center whenever the Eagles tour through D.C. — experiences which also gave impetus to VetsAid. Even though the everyman guitar hero has been gently rocking packed arenas for decades, he admitted feeling sheepish before his first visit. “I went not knowing what to say,” Walsh recalls. “When I walked in, I was pretty awkward.”
Initially, many of the guys didn’t know, or care, that Walsh was a rock ‘n’ roll icon. But as he chatted them up, one of the vets handed Walsh an out-of-tune guitar and asked Walsh to teach him “Hotel California.” Recognizing the Eagles’ biggest hit, others gathered around sparking an impromptu guitar seminar.
“When I walked out, man, these guys were really affected,” Walsh says. “They were beaming. They had a lot of energy from that, instead of just waiting around, either rehabbing a prosthetic limb or waiting for help. … So, I had a bunch of buds by the end of it.”
With a number of his more famous “buds” under one domed roof Sunday, there’s a good chance we’ll get a few impromptu collaborations during the show. “Of course, if Don’s gonna do ‘Hotel California,’ ‘[Life in the] Fast Lane,’ I should probably go out if I’m in the house,” Walsh says.
Both Stapleton and Taylor joined the Eagles this year on select dates of the band’s first major tour following Glenn Frey’s death, and Walsh says he expects to do “Steamroller Blues” with Taylor. Any other joint performances are TBD, Walsh says, save for a possible group rendition of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” to cap the night.
With roughly 80 percent of the tickets sold (as of two weeks ago), according to Walsh, it’s not yet clear how much VetsAid will raise this year. Walsh jokes that he had no idea how much work it’d take to throw a benefit concert, but he’s grateful for the generosity from the artists and behind-the-scenes players.
“I have a really good feeling about this year,” Walsh says, “and we’ll see how we do.”
Joe Walsh and Friends VetsAid. 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, Tacoma Dome, 2727 E. D St., Tacoma; $29-$329 (military discount tickets available); 800-745-3000, tacomadome.org