What began in a tiny New York bar a dozen years ago as a jam session celebrating Bob Dylan’s 60th birthday has grown into a popular series of all-star charity fests honoring the music of Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Petty Fest Seattle, one of several Petty-themed events this month, takes place Wednesday at The Showbox. The session will feature more than two dozen musicians paying tribute to the rock icon known for such classics as “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “Free Fallin’ ” and “I Need to Know.”
The lineup includes Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes, Jakob Dylan, Alison Mosshart, The Walking Papers (with Duff McKagan), Matt Sorum and Ace Harper, Noah Gundersen, Brendan Benson and many, many others.
Alex Levy, a former vice president of promotion for Epic Records, co-founded the series with Austin Scaggs, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, and Matt Romano, drummer for Hammond Jr.
Levy says Petty is “a common denominator” for the many musicians influenced by his taut, hard-rocking music.
“Petty pulled so much from people like Dylan and the Stones and the Beatles,” Levy said by phone. “I think that’s why so many musicians gravitate to him.”
Each Petty Fest turns into a giant party for musicians and fans.
“The lines really get blurred between the audience and what’s happening on stage,” Levy said. “You’ll see a lot of the artists in the audience watching other artists perform. And backstage all these friendships develop spontaneously and people wind up singing and playing with each other. They have a couple of drinks backstage and they’re like, ‘I love your records, man. Why don’t you come up and sing?’ It happens all the time.”
It doesn’t hurt that Jameson Irish whiskey is the official sponsor of “The Best Fest” series of Petty, Dylan and Stones jams.
“It helps lubricate everybody,” Levy said with a laugh.
Petty Fest features a “house band,” the Cabin Down Below Band, named for the East Village club where the series started. Most musicians will perform one Petty song.
The show’s structure is modeled after “The Last Waltz,” the 1978 concert film based on The Band’s farewell concert of 1976.
Proceeds go to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provides financial help to struggling musicians.
Hammond Jr., who will perform Petty’s “I Need to Know,” is amazed at how popular Petty Fest has become.
“It’s a beast,” he said by phone. “I don’t know what else to call it.”
Petty Fest Seattle
9 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, at the Showbox, 1426 First Ave., Seattle; $20 (888-929-7849 or www.showboxonline.com). All proceeds benefit Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.