Surprise Collaborations Abound at HeadCount Benefit
Last night, the non-profit voter registration group HeadCount hosted a Get Out and Vote Party at New York’s Highline Ballroom in conjunction with Magic Hat and Mixed Bag Productions. The evening featured an eclectic mix of music, ranging from English pop to Philadelphia hip-hop, organized into mini segments under the direction of RANA/American Babies guitarist Scott Metzger. As many suspected, at the end of the night Phil Lesh and Warren Haynes stopped by for an extended encore that lasted until well past 1AM.
The five-hour show opened with a short set by Americana/rock band American Babies, which found Spin Doctors singer Chris Barron sitting in his own hits “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” as well as Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Spanish Castle Magic.” Soon after, Metzger and Ween bassist Dave Dreiwitz teamed up with the Benevento-Russo Duo (and performed as as Bustle in Your Hedgerow) for a mini set of Led Zeppelin covers, including “Song Remains the Same.” HeadCount co-founder Andy Bernstein then took the stage to say a few words about the organization he founded three election cycles ago with Disco Biscuits bassist Marc Brownstein.
Confirming numerous rumors that had swirled in the days leading up to the event, the Disco Biscuits took the stage for a surprise appearance. The three-song performance is one of only three shows the group plans to play while finishing its first studio album since 2002 and, keeping with the evening’s theme, drew in a number of additional performances. First up, Barron returned to the stage to supply lead vocals on the Disco Biscuits’ longtime cover of Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.” The Spin Doctors singer then left to make room for keyboardist Marco Benevento, who sat in on the Disco Biscuits’ original “Story of the World.” Finally, both keyboardist John Medeski and drummer Stanton Moore joined the group for an extended jam based around Brownstein’s “Home Again.”
Throughout the night Roots drummer ?uestlove spun a series of soul, R&B and hi-hop records as stage hands quickly cleared the stage between performances. After the Disco Biscuits’ set, he moved behind the kit for the evening’s first powerjam, a loose blend of rock and gospel that featured Moore, Medeski, Dreiwitz, pedal-steel ace Robert Randolph, American Babies guitarist Tom Hamilton and several additional members of the Family Band, including keyboardist Jason Crosby. Led by Randolph’s pedal steel cries, the extended improvisational session moved from Family Band originals to covers like "Voodoo Child" to teases of bands such as Daft Punk to a freeform jam based around the word HeadCount. After Randolph’s set, British pop singer Joss Stone took the stage for a short set of her own originals.
Her appearance segued into one of the evening’s most intriguing collaborations: a supergroup consisting of Stone, Randolph, Brownstein, Medeski, Moore and the singer’s elaborate backing band. While the musicians hail from drastically different musical backgrounds, the core group found common ground on R&B/funk classics like Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand” and Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” Despite the players’ limited rehearsal time, the ad hoc ensemble remained relatively tight, especially Stone and Randolph, who locked in like longtime bandmates.
The evening’s festivities paused briefly while Phil Lesh and Warren Haynes made their way from an earlier gig at the nearby Nokia Theatre for a short encore of classic-rock tunes. Anchoring a quartet that also included Moore and Medeski, Haynes and Lesh ran through the Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower,” Buffalo Springfield’s politically charged “For What It’s Worth” and the blues rave-up “Turn on Your Lovelight.” Lesh and Haynes shared vocals throughout the three-song set, channeling the chemistry they often displayed in Phil Lesh’s original quintet.
Lesh also brought the focus back to voting. “Now, I know you are all staying up all night to be the first in line at the polls,” he joked. “That’s why I’m here—to get the word out about voting.”