Long Time, No Write– partly because I’ve had a super busy summer at work, partly because admittedly, there isn’t a huge amount of traffic here, and partly because after the Depp music news-heavy first few months of 2010, there hasn’t been anything new to talk about lately.
That changed on Saturday, August 28, when Johnny made his first live concert appearance in 2 years, as a participant in the Voices For Justice show in Little Rock, Arkansas. Joining him were such rock icons as Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith, Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison, Joseph Arthur, Natalie Maines, Bill Carter, Will Sexton, and Lisa Blount. The show was a rally in support of the West Memphis Three: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, who were convicted of the murder of three young boys in 1993. Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life in prison, while Echols was given the death sentence. Many believe that the three were wrongfully accused, with no real evidence against them, other than that they were misfits who enjoyed heavy metal music. No matter what one’s opinion might be of what actually occurred the terrible day the three children, Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore, were killed, the trial was fraught with inconsistencies, evidence was lost or tampered with, some leads were not followed, and testimonies were later recanted. Many close to the case who initially assumed the West Memphis Three’s guilt now believe in their innocence. New DNA and forensic evidence has failed to show a link to the suspects and rather points to other possible suspects, but requests for a retrial have so far been denied. The Arkansas Supreme Court will hear the evidence on September 30. You can read more about the case on Wikipedia.
As far as the concert itself, it sounded like a unique and amazing event. Johnny and Eddie both read from Echols’ journal, and there was a video message from Echols himself and a greeting from his wife, Lorri Davis. Johnny’s former P bandmate Bill Carter performed a song called Something Made Of Paper (or Anything Made Of Paper) that he and his wife Ruth Ellsworth wrote specifically for Damien Echols. Eddie performed covers by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Waits, as well as originals, and Natalie Maines and Ben Harper’s band Fistful of Justice (featuring Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison) perfomed several songs apiece.
Then, it was time for Johnny the musician to become involved. He joined Vedder for an outstanding performance of Jerry Hannan’s song Society, from the motion picture Into The Wild. Johnny took the acoustic lead part, and the audience’s surprise and appreciation when they realized that Johnny was playing the solo was audible. By many accounts from the Pearl Jam community, this performance was the highlight of the evening. See the performance here!
Then, Patti Smith was called on stage. Eddie and Johnny remained on stage, but did not play while Patti performed My Blakean Year solo. Then, they joined her for Wing and Dancing Barefoot. The show ended with a great performance of Patti’s People Have The Power, with all of the musicians joining her on stage.
I’ve gotta give a big hand to the fantastic folks who attended the show, especially from the Pearl Jam community, who have been unbelievably generous with photos and YouTubes of the performances, as well as great stories and reviews of the event. From what I could tell from visiting various forums, the audience gave total respect to Johnny as a musician and did not even question his presence as a guitarist. He was described as a “Cool MoFo” and playing a “great solo”. For my part, it’s wonderful to see non-Depp fans appreciating his guitar chops. I’m also thrilled to see Bill Carter and Johnny playing together again, and hope that someday maybe they’ll consider a mini-P reunion.
I can’t let this blog go by without at least acknowledging that it’s almost exactly the Two Year Anniversary of the 2008 Sheila Witkin Benefits (August 29 and 30, 2008). I have the fondest memories of those two nights, sharing them with several good friends, and getting my brief moment on the 29th to shake Johnny’s hand and thank him and The Kids for playing for us. What fantastic shows– The Kids, you’re the best!!