The Eagles guitarist's second annual benefit concert raised $1.2 million for veterans organizations with a little help from his friends Don Henley, James Taylor, Chris Stapleton, Haim and Ringo Starr.
Until James Taylor, hat in hand, humbly strolled onto the stage, it hadn’t been an overly sentimental night. The great American folk singer tenderly brought the packed Tacoma Dome crowd to its feet Sunday night with his feathery classic, “Carolina in My Mind,” before introducing a song about a friend forever altered by his experience in Vietnam.
“Vietnam pretty much canceled him out,” Taylor told a Veterans Day crowd 18,000-strong before his gentle picking on “Native Son” sliced through the still arena air, the postwar tune cutting as deep as it could have decades ago.
It was one of a few poignant moments during Joe Walsh’s second annual VetsAid show, a star-powered benefit gig that otherwise felt more like a casual get-down in gratitude to military men and women. After last year’s inaugural concert in Virginia, Walsh — whose father died on active duty — wanted to bring his roving charitable bash to the West Coast, settling on the Tacoma Dome because of its size and proximity to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which the classic rock icon toured a few days earlier.
“It was a real booster shot,” Walsh said, talking about his base visit during a preshow news conference. “I really got the feeling that the military has our backs.”
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With his fledgling VetsAid, the Eagles guitarist hopes to show veterans that someone has theirs, and Sunday’s event raised more than $1.2 million — roughly three times last year’s total — to be distributed to veterans organizations around the country, including at least $10,000 each for AMVETS Department of Washington and Hood Canal-based Salmon for Soldiers.
However good a cause, a party’s only as fun as its guests, and leave it to a seasoned rock star with a Rolodex like Walsh’s to make a show stacked with big names like Don Henley, Taylor and Ringo Starr feel like a laid-back, familial Sunday night gathering. Walsh’s comedian pal Drew Carey showed up as an unannounced emcee, introducing some of the acts and members of groups like Fallen Patriot and Semper Fi Fund, who spoke of how the organizations helped them.
Danell Daymon and the largely Puget Sound-based Greater Works gospel choir kick-started the show with forceful, tighter-than-a-crew-cut version of the national anthem — a rendition as good as any we’ve ever heard. The vivacious troupe later returned for a jumping “This Little Light of Mine” and “Shout,” the full-throated singers nearly stomping through the stage.
Despite it being a boomer-heavy crowd, millennial faves Haim proved a perfect choice as openers on the advice of Walsh’s stepson. The indie-pop sister trio brought a welcomed youthful spark, gradually winning over older fans with their reverence for pop-rock’s past. By the end of their 45-minute set (one of the longest of the night) packed with infectiously hooky anthems, the lone women on the bill had the happily seated crowd on their feet, compelling at least one middle-aged man to scream “Girl powerrrrr!” (Walsh also tried, unsuccessfully, to land Carrie Underwood, who has a Tacoma Dome date of her own next May.)
Next up, bona fide country man Chris Stapleton — whose band featured Nashville superproducer Dave Cobb — wowed the pro-country crowd with his thick-and-rich baritone as sweetly rugged as a bourbon barrel stave. Slow-burning “Outlaw State of Mind” descended into a muddy-booted stomp, with Stapleton’s smoky rasp lingering like an exhaled weed hit over the dashboard of a rusty F-150.
Stapleton’s no-nonsense half hour set the tone for the rest of the night, as a house band settled in to back solo slots from Taylor, Henley and Walsh without breaks. During his brisk five-song set, Taylor wound up getting more laughs than Carey, introducing “Sweet Baby James” with a punchline-heavy monologue “for those of you who aren’t sleeping already.” A Walsh-assisted “Steamroller Blues” brought Taylor’s gentle segment to a swaggering end, before Henley took over with a stirring “The End of Innocence.” The Eagles drummer/singer delivered some of the night’s high points with Walsh joining him on a springy “Life in the Fast Lane” and an easy-swinging “Hotel California,” which saw Henley jump behind the kit.
While Henley’s set, capped with a chilling “Desperado,” featured the night’s most recognizable songs, no one utilized the ace house band better than Walsh, whose James Gang classics “Walk Away” and “Funk #49” brought the party back up after Henley’s heavy-hearted run through the tear-in-your-$13-beer arena ballad.
For all the emotion in Henley’s voice on “Desperado,” Walsh squeezed even more out of his guitar during “Turn to Stone,” squinting as he nailed equally showy and visceral solo runs while images of homeless veterans flashed behind him on the big screen. “If you’re a vet, I just want you to know that there are people who care,” Walsh said before the satiating extended jam that could’ve easily gone on another 10 indulgent minutes.
As promised, all the performers returned to the stage for a sprightly finale of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” led by Walsh’s pogoing brother-in-law Ringo Starr. It was a heartwarming all-crew outro to end a special night for a good cause.