For two nights last week the Fonda Theatre was a scene of sublime tribute to one of the greatest gifts the music world has ever received, as The Best Fest unveiled its stellar FleetwoodMac Fest to the tune of the band’s decade-spanning discography. Put together for the benefit of two charities (Sweet Relief Musicians Fund and Sweet Stuff Foundation), the event was brought together by the same group responsible for Brian Fest and George Fest–and has garnered a reputation for bringing together a fabulous lineup of musicians, actors, and comedians for exceedingly emotive tribute shows. The inaugural celebration of the Fleetwood Mac Fest was no different.
The Cabin Down Below Band, the choice house band of The Best Fest, opened the nights festivities with the emphatic “Tusk,” pushing through the song’s trickling folk medley with a measured intensity and jubilation. For the rest of the night, The Cabin Down Below held down the stage diligently embodying all the best of the Mac’s gorgeous melodies. Sister singer/songwriter duo The Pierces followed up with “Hold Me”; Allison and Catherine were pictures of poised elegance as they swayed to the song’s folksy harmonies. The duo would later reappear for another beautiful recreation of one of the Mac’s other famous harmonies, “Say You Love Me.” Continuing what would be a theme of inanely powerful and stunning performances my female leads, Lucius’ own synth-pop divas Jess Wolfe and Holly Laesigg entreated fans to an uncharacteristically folk-rock rendition of “I Don’t Want Know.”
But the night was not just a tribute to the timeless vocal prowess of Nicks, Buckingham and McVie, as it also successfully captured the band’s intricate bluesy-pop guitar lines. To this end Elvis Perkins and Butch Walker offered up everything from melt-your-face shredding on “Monday Morning” to the more subtle, nuanced plucks of “World Turning.” Soul man Noah Gundersen was the incarnate of the Mac’s pop-hit in “Little Lies,” while members of Jamestown Revival brought out the brooding folk ambience of “Never Going Back Again,” as the crowd crooned alongside the song’s harmonized chorus. The first major highlight of the night came with the arrival of Emily Armstrong of Dead Sara fame, as she stormed onstage to the explosive rock bombast of “Edge of Seventeen.” A rock star herself, Armstrong strutted and roared the song’s uplifting lyricisms–at one point jumping from the stage to stand on the railing in front of the crowd to toss an unused microphone for fans to use–possessed surely, by the spirit of Nicks’ white wing dove.
The hits kept coming as the Karen Elson, wife of Jack White, showed off her vocal chops on the beloved blues lines of “Rhiannon”; followed quickly by a goose-bump inducing moment that saw Australian singer Mereki murmur out the hallowed lines of “Landslide,” while Dhani Harrison’s glowing guitar strums echoed throughout the silent theatre. It took the combined efforts of Danny Masterson, Adam Busch, and Bijou Philips to bring to life the joyful “Second Hand News”; while the talented Los Angeles born PHASES poured out the transcendent bliss of “Everywhere,” with lead singer Z Berg’s euphonious trills doing more than justice to McVie’s original.
Then came the “Gyspy,” and as those opening plucks began, Nashville’s Jessie Baylin emptied out her soothing lulls–and your body was covered in goosebumps once again with your hair standing on end. It wasn’t even the fact that Baylin, like most of the musicians present, could create honest to God renditions of the Mac’s sound and style, but rather the bare-naked sincerity of their love for the songs they were singing.
Another local favorite, Cold War Kids, took the stage for a brief but nothing short of evocatively emotional completion of, arguably, one of the Mac’s most alluring songs, “Man of the World,” with lead singer Nathan Willet’s soft hums the first break in tempo for the night. But the quiet was short-lived as Karen Elson retook the stage, this time with comedian Will Forte, playing the part of Tom Petty–the unlikely duo charmed the crowd, as Brian Bell of Weezer peddled out the song’s heavy guitar riffs. The Scottish KT Tunstall, wielding a massive guitar, pushed through the silky chorus lines of “You Make Loving Fun” with a smile plastered on her face the entire set, cutting through the song’s bluegrass roots with obvious joy. Juliette Lewis gave a standout performance in a night full of unforgettable moments, as the wide-eyed actor flew, jumped, leapt, and stormed across the stage to the tune of Nicks’ rock anthem “Stand Back.”
This was followed by an unexpectedly funny rendition of “Go Your Own Way,” sung by none other than Sarah Silverman (because of course it was), joined once more by face melter Walker. The last half-hour of the fest was a flurry of big names and big songs, beginning with a delicate cover of “Silver Springs” by Courtney Love, who declared the song was deeply close to her heart, before thanking the crew and house band for dealing with the divas present, including her. Love brought all the raw and unfiltered emotiveness required by the sad ballad, as her harsh wails cut through the crowd. A slowed-down version of “Dreams” was offered up by The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and Mark Ronson, as the duo brought to life what is without of doubt the Mac’s holiest and lasting imprint on music.
A large number of the night’s performers rejoined the duo at the end of the song for a wild cover of “The Chain,” which saw Walker shredding his guitar with a gleeful Mosshart on his back. But the real finale came when the opening piano medley of “Don’t Stop” began, as every musician, actor, and comedian stepped back onstage to sing in unison the fittingly hopeful and euphoric chorus.
Words & Photos: Steven Ward