No doubt about it, this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was all inclusive. Those making the 2017 class included Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Baez, Yes, Tupac Shakur, Journey and Pearl Jam. That’s a pretty long stretch of diverse musical talent even for the Rock Hall.
The event was held live at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and was simulcast directly to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio where hundreds of fans gathered to cheer and support their favorite musicians. During the show, the entire Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was open for guests to check out the museum during the simulcast.
The evening was everything one could ask for. There were heartfelt tributes to those who have passed on, wonderfully funny stories and some of the best live music in the world.
The show kicked off with a tribute to Chuck Berry (the first ever rock and roller to be inducted into the Hall) followed by a blazing rendition of “Rollover Beethoven” by Electric Light Orchestra (complete with cellos and viola) whose founder, Jeff Lynne handled the singing and electric guitar solo duties. This was followed by the ELO hits “Evil Woman” and “Mr. Blue Sky” and was just the opening act.
The first presenter was George Harrison’s son, Dhani who told the story of seeing his father perform on stage for the first time at an ELO concert and the effect it had on him. He also told of seeing the group performing at the Hollywood Bowl following last year’s presidential election that had him and most of the crowd wanting to get beamed up with the group. The four original members of the group inducted into the Hall of Fame included Lynne, Tandy, original drummer Bev Bevan and co-founder Roy Wood.
Joan Baez was introduced by Jackson Browne who recalled that the first album he ever purchased was a Baez album. During her acceptance speech Baez pointed out the relationship of Folk Music to Rock adding, “Let us together repeal and replace brutality and make compassion a priority," During her memorizing acoustic performance of “Sweet Low Sweet Chariot” that had her altering the lyrics to indicate that even Donald Trump can be saved. Baez was then joined on stage by Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Indigo Girls to perform Woody Guthrie’s "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" and the Band’s "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
Next on stage was Rush’s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson in order to induct Yes and telling what a huge influence the band had been in their careers by, as Lifeson recalled “make me want to be a better musician.”
Keyboardist Rick Wakeman took his turn at the mike to deliver a hysterical comedy routine including telling how poor his family was growing up (his father was an Elvis impersonator in 1947), how he discovered his wife was in a coma (the sex was the same but the laundry was piling up) and his experience during a recent prostate exam.
Although behind the scenes the past decade of Yes has been one of feuding and competing bands all was peaceful as various members took the stage to perform including Alan White on drums, Rick Wakeman on keyboards, Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin on guitar as the group played “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
The fun continued with Snoop Dogg arriving in his usual altered state to induct his friend, the late Tupac Shakur who is the first solo artist rapper to enter the Hall of Fame. Snoop revealed how Tupac gave him his first blunt back in 1993 ("I was a zig-zag man before that shit") before launching into a hysterical tale about parasailing with Tupac in Mexico. "Does anybody know what parasailing is?" he asked. "Because we damn sure didn’t…me and Pac were sitting on the edge of the boat with all this gear and shit on and all of sudden the boat pulls away and we start floating and slammed up into the water like boom. I don’t know what was in there, sharks, or octopus or whatever. And the entire time we’re flying Pac is telling me about his idea for a movie he wants me to star in. It was crazy. " Following the induction, Snoop joined Alicia Keys, T.I, YG and Treach rapping “Dear Mama,” “Changes,” “Hail Mary” and “I Get Around.”
Next on stage was Pat Monahan of Train to induct Journey. Fans were hoping that original lead singer Steve Perry would perform (the last time was in 1991) and the rumors were flying. These were ramped up when Perry walked onstage for the induction as he paid tribute to the band, the fans and even current lead singer Arnel Pineda who joined the band in 2008. The stage went black and tensions were high but after a seemingly long delay it was Pineda who trotted out on stage for a version of “Separate Ways” and “Lights” (that featured original Journey keyboardist Gregg Rolie and original drummer Aynsley Dunbar). Journey closed their set with a rousing rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Pharrell Williams introduced his friend, mentor and collaborator of his “Get Lucky” album, Nile Rodgers who was presented with the Award for Musical Excellence. During his remarks, Rodgers said, "This award, which is amazing to me, is really because of all the people that have allowed me to come into their lives and just join their band," he said. "Be it Mick Jagger, be it Madonna, be it Duran Duran, be it Daft Punk, be it Pharrell Williams, be it Diana Ross, be it Sister Sledge. It just goes on and on and on."
What followed next was the In Memorial segment that was presented to the strains of Leonard Cohan’s “Boogie Street” with the last artist honored being Prince. Lenny Kravitz then took the stage with the Love Fellowship Choir and their moving renditions of “When Doves Cry” and “The Cross.”
The last group to be inducted was Pearl Jam with Neil Young originally slated to introduce the group. Unfortunately, Young had to bow out due to illness and in his stead was David Letterman who began by saying what an honor it was to get out of the house. At times hysterical and at times poignant, Letterman (looking like father time in a suit) motioned to an upper balcony section that as he put it “sits all the past drummers of Pearl Jam.” He also told how "In 1994, these young men risked their careers by going after those beady-eyed, blood-thirsty weasels [in Ticketmaster]." he said. "And because they did, because they stood up to the corporations I’m happy to say, ladies and gentleman, today every concert ticket in the United States of America is free."
Letterman then got serious as he related what a joy it was to have live music on his show every night with Pearl Jam appearing ten times (once to play an entire album). Following their final appearance on the show, Eddie Vedder gave David a small guitar and a note to pass on to his son, Harry. The note read, "I’ll make you a deal. If you learn even one song on this guitar I’ll get you a nicer, bigger one for your birthday, maybe an electric one. You let me know … Playing guitar is kind of like fishing. Fishing for songs. Good luck, Harry, in all things."
Each member of Pearl Jam was present for the induction including their original drummer Dave Krusen who thanked the Red Hot Chili Peppers for Pearl Jam’s start. Guitarist Mike McCready listed their biggest influences as. "Cheap Trick, Queen, Bowie, Hendrix, the Stones, Beatles, UFO, Kraftwork, Ramones, Brandi Carlile, the Kills, Social Distortion, Muddy Waters, Sex Pistols, the Clash, and my new favorite band, Thunder Pussy."
Eddie Vedder thanked his mom for her good parenting, “She wouldn’t tell us to turn it down…she would just kind of end up being fans of the bands that we were playing really loudly."
Pearl Jam took the stage and launched into “Alive” with Dave Krusen on drums. This was followed by “Given to Fly” with Matt Cameron behind the kit as they closed their set with “Better Man.”
The show closed with all the bands returning to the stage for a rendition of “Rockin’ in the Free World with such notables as Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neal Schon, Trevor Rabin, Dhani Harrison, Jonathan Cain and Jack Irons (who shared the drum kit with Matt Cameron).
In what is one of the few coming together of Folk, Rock, Prog, Pop and Rap this show had something for everyone showing that music is the true melting pot of the world. In 2018 the Induction ceremony will return to Cleveland and for a time after that alternate each year between New York City and Cleveland.