Thrilled to have witnessed MusiCares Person of the Year Tribute Concert for Tom Petty Friday night! Can’t think of any other artist more revered, respected, and deserving to receive this prestigious honor. His indelible, prolific contribution to music over the past 40+ yrs. is common knowledge but his low profile, outspoken commitment to human rights and defense of performer’s rights is equally significant. Randy Newman kicked off the show with a cover of Petty’s “Refugee” that seemed even more relevant considering current events. Nora Jones, Gary Clark Jr., Foo Fighters, The Lumineers, Cage the Elephant, The Head and the Heart, Regina Spektor, Lucinda Williams, Jackson Brown, Jacob Dylan, Don Henley, Chris Hillman, Taj Mahal, Elle King, and the Sheltons took turns covering T.P.’s classic tracks alternating with priceless archival footage clips spanning his career and sharing his per Ringo Starr, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, Joe Walsh, and other industry luminaries were in the audience to lend support and popped up on the six big screen monitors periodically. After 2 1/2 hrs of covers and testimonials the man himself came onstage and started sharing fascinating stories of his early career like being invited to sit in with Leon Russell subsequently meeting Ringo, George Harrison, and legendary session drummer Jim Keltner. He went on to talk about his admiration for Johnny Cash, his appreciation for his band, The Heartbreakers, and the time MCA records rejected his mega hit “Free Falling” and was picked up by Mo Ostin at rival label Warner Bros.

Talking about the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, Petty said DJs thought it was a black conspiracy to bring their music to white radio. “The government got very serious about it, especially the Republicans,” he said. “They put Elvis in the Army and Chuck Berry in jail. Things calmed down for a couple of years. But it was too late, the music had reached England. In 1964, the Beatles came, I had my eyes opened like so many others, and I joined the conspiracy to put black music on white popular radio.” Tom then picked up his guitar and was joined by the Bangles lending they’re lush harmonies as they launched into “Waiting for Tonight” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” Stevie Nicks’ duet with Petty revisited her smash hit from 1981 “Stop Draggin’ My Hear Around” and fellow Traveling Wilbury, Jeff Lynn and T.P. brought the crowd to it’s feet with a powerful version of “I Won’t Back Down.”

The night, emceed by comedian Ed Helm, broke previous records for MusiCares raising $8.5 million. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will begin a 40th anniversary tour — which he says may be his last major one — on April 20, with Joe Walsh serving as the opening act for most dates.