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AMA TRIBUTE TO GLENN FREY

Before legendary photographer Henry Diltz introduced himself, he received a resounding ovation at the Americana Music Association’s Tribute to Glenn Frey Saturday night. The annual unofficial celebration at the Troubadour has become roots music’s walk-up to The Grammys—and AMA chief Jed Hilly and show producer Michelle Aquilato turned the event, initially a Texas tribute, into an homage to the Eagles co-founder, whose roots were in that very room.

Diltz, on early, stood quietly amid the cheers, then spoke of a more innocent time when music drove ambition and long-haired musicians “played cowboys for two days,” or “left here at 2am, drove to Joshua Tree and took peyote” to craft album covers. His loving recollections offered not just a history lesson, but the railroad ties of how the Eagles took a humble roots/songwriter scene and forged one of the most enduring bands not just of the ’70s, but of all time.

With Irving Azoff in the balcony with Cindy Frey and Harry Styles, it felt like the perfect beginning to a week of tributes to the Detroit-born Frey. Daniel Glass was in the house, as was Vector Management chief Ken Levitan, Red Light’s Enzo DiVencenzo, Kings of Leon’s Nathan Followill, Rounder Records A&R head Tracy Gershon and producers George Drakoulias and Frank Liddell.

With Venice serving as house band/harmony chorale for much of the night, a parade of singers took the stage. Post-Civil Wars John Paul White (a sweetly angsty “New Kid in Town”), Ruby Amanfu (a fluttering “Sad Café”), Cedric Burnside (a smoking “Smugglers Blues”), Jesse Baylin (a truly pretty “After the Thrill Is Gone”) and Sam Outlaw (a straight-up morning after read of “Tequila Sunrise”) represented the new guard’s reverence for the storied country-rockers. Nicki Bluhm—sans funky backup band The Gramblers—brought a decidedly smoky Linda Ronstadt evocation to “One of These Nights” that connected the hippie undertow of Laurel Canyon and Hoot Nights at the Troub to what became Americana.

Jack Tempchin, representing the old guard, delivered “The One You Love” and “Already Gone,” songs he co-created, and flexed the heart that matched so much of Frey’s essence. Texan Jack Ingram brought a sting to the ’70s L.A. anthem “Life in the Fast Lane.”

But it was the ladies who brought it hardest. Best Solo Country Vocal Performance Grammy nominee Lee Ann Womack said, “I’ll be honest with you: When they asked me to do this, I didn’t want to. Because how do you sing songs that are so much a part of people’s lives?” She then earned cheers after the first vocal ride of “I Can’t Tell You Why,” that only built as the song went on. Best Americana Album nominee Brandi Carlile followed Tempchin in perfect stride, finding the blissed-out pocket of “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” maintaining that flow from way back when to now.

When Bonnie Raitt walked out for a searing “Heartache Tonight,” which she shared with Bluhm, she provided a strong reminder to the packed room that the Eagles were about living life to the hilt—not just the easy-listening FM AC staple they became, but a churning force of enjoying every moment to the hilt.

Once again, the night was presented in partnership with Middle Tennessee State University’s singular College of Media and Recording Industry Management, and program head Ken Paulson, who welcomed the crowd with Hilly, provided the night’s most ironic comment. Citing their unique curriculum, he explained the show is a benefit “for an education to get into a business that they broke through downloading.”

After echoing the Eagles’ ability to punch hypocrisy in the face, Paulson got serious. He recognized MTSU President Dr. Sidney A. McPhee and RIM Chairman Beverly Keel, adding a sense that Frey’s celebration was paying homage to the past, but also nodding to the future, making the show a fitting legacy for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, whose songs will always be with us.

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