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Country artists dominated Friday night’s (Feb. 8) MusiCares Person of the Year salute to Bruce Springsteen in Los Angeles as colleagues and fans including Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill paid tribute to the Boss.
The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines, whose debut solo album, Mother, comes out May 7, joined blues rocker Ben Harper and legendary harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite for a sober, rueful “Atlantic City" while seated on a revolving circular stage in the middle of the ballroom at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Natalie's powerhouse, piercing voice overshadowed Ben's soulful vocals at times, but they made for an intriguing, touching blend.
Zac Brown and Mavis Staples provided a more compatible pairing for the call-to-arms “My City of Ruins.” Though Mavis needed no help taking the crowd of 3,000 to church with her spiritual, soulful voice, a choir joined the duo for a rousing finish. If Zac and the gospel legend energized the audience members, Emmylou Harris’s beautiful, haunting “My Hometown” transfixed them. Her angelic, vulnerable voice brought a renewed poignancy to the tale of resignation.
Appearing on the center stage like Natalie, major Springsteen devotee Kenny Chesney performed a wistful “One Step Up.” Playing acoustic guitar and joined only by his keyboardist, who provided vocal harmonies as well, Kenny infused the ballad with the same bittersweetness as his recent hit “Come Over.”
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill wrapped their voices around the brawny, muscular “Tougher Than the Rest,” with Tim singing lead and Faith replicating the harmonies created by Bruce's back-up singer/now wife Patti Scialfa on 1987’s Tunnel of Love. Bruce and Patti, as well as Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, attended the opening night of Tim and Faith's residency at Las Vegas’ Venetian Hotel in December.
Among the other artists paying tribute to Bruce, who ended the show with a rousing five-song set, were Mumford & Sons, Elton John, Sting, Neil Young and Jackson Browne. For his closing number, Bruce called all the performers onto the stage to join him for “Glory Days.” Tim, sharing a microphone with Bruce, attempted to lead on the second verse, but sputtered out, laughing, before handing lead singing chores back to the Boss.
The Recording Academy traditionally holds the MusiCares dinner two nights before the Grammy Awards. Money raised from the evening goes to provide medical, financial and personal assistance to musicians and others in the music industry.