Most tribute concerts are bloated affairs where a slew of acts can make you just want to hear the original songs on the albums. But Thursday’s EMP Museum Founder’s Day Jackson Browne tribute was a template for how it can be done right.
Though Browne only sang a few songs himself, he was active in picking the lineup and rehearsing the band. Seattle singer-songwriter Danny O’Keefe opened the show and talked about meeting Browne four decades ago. Brown said he’d written a “road” album (“Running on Empty”), but didn’t have a “road” song.
O’Keefe did, and his beautiful take on “The Road” set the standard for a night that was all about celebrating songwriting. Dave Alvin then showed how “Rednecked Friend” could become a blues romp, with his guitar wizardry.
Keb Mo stuck with the blues theme for “Rock Me on the Water,” while Marc Cohn followed with “Too Many Angels.” Shawn Colvin did three songs, the most of anyone, and “Call It a Loan” was perfect for her voice.
Paul Allen, who organizes Founder’s Day to raise money for EMP’s youth education wing — a bass from Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic was auctioned for $16,000, and the night itself raised more than $600,000 — said Browne’s catalog is full of songs that “carry real emotional weight.” That became even clearer near the end of the evening as Graham Nash, one of last year’s Founder’s Day honorees, came onstage.
Cohn teased Nash about his low-key flannel shirt, but Nash said, “I’m in my seventies so I can dress how I like.” Then Nash sang a heartbreaking version of Browne’s “Song for Adam,” proving that aging doesn’t mean losing the emotional weight of a song.
After that dark song, the night had to shift, and it did, with Browne himself leading the ensemble in “Running on Empty.” At 66, Browne’s voice is still sharp, and his always-boyish appearance belies his age. He spoke about how honored he was to hear his songs interpreted with such care.
“This night has been very humbling and emotional,” he said.
Browne received a standing ovation, which closed the concert.