words + photo by Harriet Kaplan
Nikia Provenzano, brand influencer/style blogger of Madmavenstyle, hosted and organized a diverse and eclectic range of musicians to pay tribute to Jeff Buckley on the anniversary of his death on May 29, 1997 at Hotel Cafe. A longtime fan herself and a passionate devotee keeping the flame going for this highly influential singer/songwriter with a magical and captivating tenor that played one of the fiercest, intricate and complex guitar styles around, looked for artists with "strong, brilliant vocal talents". Provenzano, who has been involved in other Jeff Buckley tribute shows before, said the musicians she asks to participate typically are familiar with his music but some are not and explained "It inspires me more that I have turned on artists covering Jeff Buckley that may have not heard or listened to him. I feel like any real musician needs to know about him."
Opener singer/songwriter and producer Dylan Kelly, who delivered a nuanced and subtle reading of Nina Simone's "Lilac Wine" while playing ukulele, said he wasn't exposed to Jeff Buckley growing up and had never delved into his music until Nikia reached out to him perform.
Kelly said he loved to sing and jumped at the chance to get involved in the tribute. Kelly explained: "Lilac Wine" was a song that spoke to me. Jeff Buckley's cover has a lot of emotion. You feel the energy. I like the inflection and timing on his vocal arrangements. You don't get that with a lot of modern artists that have that kind of variation with the music like Jeff Buckley."
Guitarist Stephen Hovsepian, vocalist Shelley Scarr and singer/songwriter/guitarist Zane Carney gave a powering and stirring rendition of "Hallelujah" that was emotionally arresting. Carney, who grew up in New York City, has been following Jeff Buckley since he was kid and become more serious about his music and developed an appreciation for it in his teens. He performed at a Jeff Buckley tribute in Los Angeles on the anniversary of his birth date and Jeff's mother, Mary Guibert, attended. Carey explained: "I listen to his songs every month. I love that he sang like a classical singer with a rock and roll band. That was very unique. His style was beautiful, rich, dense, harmonic rock music with a classical tenor voice. Jeff was very special and showed me a new side of how music can be communicated."
Carah Faye of Shiny Toy Guns fame and now an emerging solo artist in her own right, blew the audience away with her outstanding and gripping treatment of "So Real" and "Lover, You Should've Have Come Over." Faye held the crowd under her spell as she belted out the songs out with versatile but traditionally faithful Buckley accented accompaniment by Jeremy Dawson (Shiny Toy Guns).
Faye said performing at the tribute was important and admired Buckley's many gifts. "Being part of this event meant so much to me because Jeff Buckley is one of the most honest to himself artists that I probably ever heard. There's not many artists you hear off the bat and you believe them. You believe everything from the lyric to the way it dances with the melody. The way he performs it is so real and unique. Even learning these songs with my piano player and intricacies of the chords Jeff Buckley picked are like no other and the time signature changes are so brilliant. "Lover" is my favorite. When I got into that song, I was in a relationship and felt a connected. I wanted to be pick a song that would segue with it and I love "So Real."
Allison Iraheta of Halo Circus mesmerized concertgoers with an adventurous and riveting performances of "Dream Brother" and "Last Goodbye" that was powerfully epic in scope. Brian Stead and Matteo Eyia supported Iraheta on congas and guitar.
Iraheta was also very honored and excited to be invited to perform and "celebrate Jeff Buckley's incredible voice with other incredible artists." Iraheta explained: "The lyrics and story behind everything he did is timeless. I was really young when I discovered Jeff Buckley and remember hearing "So Real." I checked out Grace. No one writes like that anymore. The fact you can play one of his songs to a youngster today and for it to hit them in a way that nothing has hit them in today's music is amazing because I feel people are afraid to speak the truth right now. Or it's a little too sad to speak the truth. He did that. "Dream Brother" what an incredible song. Lyrics about friend of his that got his ex girlfriend pregnant and was leaving her and he wanted to tell him how hard it was for him to grow up without a dad was asking his friend to stay with his girlfriend who was having a child and he wrote this song. Who writes like that anymore?! No one - it's crazy! It's a beautiful song. "The Last Goodbye" has longing and hopefulness. I miss that so much and I want that in the music world. Nights like this are a reminder of how beautiful and great it is to be honest. And to be emotional. How it's ok to do that. It helps me push my limits. To see what stories mean the most to me in terms of what I write or tell stories through my music. From the moment I got this call to perform, I started living with his songs and albums and watching the way he performed live to just respect it. To acknowledge that it was honest, real and someone's music and life. We get to celebrate that tonight and what a gift he left us."
Singer/songwriter Jason Dowd, accompanying himself on guitar and using pedals and some other effects simulating percussive instruments, played "Mamma On My Mind," Satisfied Mind," and "I Shall Be Released." His solo turn is the spotlight was well received and his performance was earnest and solid.
Damsel Adams, who came onstage shortly thereafter, and performed next to longtime friend "brother" and musician Dowd, brought an experimental and quirky twist/quality to The Smiths' "I Know Its Over" and Nine Simone's "Be My Husband." Adams is a wonderful vocalist and has broad range. She is an animated visual presence that also takes cues from one of Jeff Buckley's inspirations: Edith Piaf.
Adams said she was excited to perform at the tribute but found it challenging when came to song choices because most were taken already. Adams explained: "There was one album I listened to Live at C-Sine. Jeff Buckley does "Be My Husband." I thought that is right up my alley. I thought let's take it to another level. Bring my style in - some electro music. I love the way he did it. There was so much brass. It sounds like real drums. "I Know It's Over" from The Smiths. I love the 80s. Jason suggested I do it and I adore him. We didn't rehearse the songs a lot. I think that's ok. I mess up in the songs but I don't care. It doesn't matter. It's about feeling. It's not about having a good voice and sounding the coolest. It's about living those lyrics and how people connect with you. I listened to the Smiths song over and over. Jeff Buckley did a cool arpeggio clanky guitar sound. We did a balance between the two. I really appreciate having that organic singer/songwriter true to its core connection that he had. I love how raw he was and that's how we really connected."
The Ceremonies was the evening's headliner and they closed the show with perhaps the closest link and feel to Jeff Buckley that was instantly identifiable from the band's looks, sound and signature guitar playing. The band played "Grace" and Everybody Here Wants You." It was a rousing passionate performance. The entire band including Matthew, Mark and Michael Cook and Kane Ritchotte spoke about their connection to Jeff Buckley.
"Grace was the first song we jammed to as a band. It has sentimental value to us and we have love for the song. We are good friends with Nikia and when she told us she wanted to put on this show, we said sign us up.
"I think of all the people that we have met and connect with the name Jeff Buckley comes up immediately. His fans tend to be more genuine in the display of emotion or their artistic statement if they are artists. He was very pure with that. That resonates with us above all. Despite the fact he is an incredibly talented guitar player and singer, he is not afraid to make mistakes. He hit bad notes and didn't care because he was in the moment. We are heavily influenced by that mindset. We feel the weight of his life and death when we listen to his music. There is a reason people from our generation become obsessed with Jeff Buckley is because they find out about his life, history and family. Then the stories become integrated into the appeal. The drama of it and it's a very heavy story. Jeff Buckley was a heavy musician. People feel attached to his lyrics."
The audience at the Madmavenstyle's Jeff Buckley Tribute Show were moved and entertained by all the heartfelt performances. The event was a sincere and respectful interpretation of the music and showcased the individuals talents of all artists involved who felt the impact of the Jeff Buckley legacy on so many levels personally and gave their all to honor him.