Lady Gaga is scheduled to perform on August 14 at Wrigley Field. Like every other major event this summer that concert seems highly unlikely given the timeline for having a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, but last night she spearheaded an effort to bring music into our homes anyway, while we were all social distancing.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the “One World: Together At Home” concert that aired on every major network, multiple other channels and almost every streaming service last night, but I knew I wanted to watch. In fact, I’ll confess, I had a conflict partway through the show, so I recorded it to be sure I could watch the whole thing.
At the risk of showing my age, this was not Live Aid. For those of you who are young enough to be like “What was Live Aid?” I’ll provide a brief recap of the 1985 benefit concert that raised money to fight a famine in Ethiopia. On July 13, 1985 simultaneous concerts in the US, UK and dozens of other pop-up events in other countries provided a day of music, charity and a sense of community that still resonates with me today. I remember being six years old with the concerts on all day in our little home in Price, UT. I was in awe listening to Tom Petty, the Rolling Stones, and of course, this legendary performance by Freddie Mercury and Queen:
The thing I remember most, though, is my parents making a small donation. My dad wound up with a T-shirt from of that donation that he wore through the 1980s and early 1990s. It is probably still in his drawer. It was a moment of realizing the world was much bigger than my little corner of it in a sleepy coal mining town. And while I’ve always loved music (I was the kid that begged my parents for piano lessons as soon as I realized that pianos existed) this sense of wonder and community through music is an indelible memory.
The One World: Together at Home concert was different, but I expect the memory will be equally unshakable. For starters, it wasn’t a telethon or an explicit fundraiser. While there were links throughout the night to take action the entire show was built around building a sense of community, support and gratitude. Most of the artists performing did covers of classic songs and I will admit I teared up listening to Stevie Wonder cover Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” less than three weeks after we lost Withers to COVID-19:
Nothing is without controversy in 2020 America and some of the reviews this morning were less than kind. New York Post entertainment writer Johnny Oleksinski took issue with the set list, arguing that it “made us feel worse.” He’s correct that the set list didn’t have the riotous joy you see in Live Aid clips but honestly I personally thought it was well suited to the moment. I found myself singing along as Lady Gaga opened with Smile, and known Cubs fan Eddie Vedder was just on point with this rendition of Pearl Jam’s River Cross:
The night was not without it’s technical glitches as I think anyone working from home via Zoom, Uberconference and other video conferencing software can appreciate right now, but it certainly achieved it’s goal of bringing us together through music for a few hours while celebrating the essential workers keeping us safe. I mean, how can anyone argue that this rendition of Safety Dance doesn’t perfectly encapsulate trying to keep moral high during pandemic life?