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A Birthday Gift for Elliott Smith

August 12th, 2013

Elliott Smith Tribute – The Bowery Ballroom – August 10, 2013


Last Tuesday would have been Elliott Smith’s 44th birthday, and it still feels strange to live in a world without him. Almost 10 years after his death, there was a palpable void on Saturday night at The Bowery Ballroom. Perhaps it was because so much else of Elliott was present: his family, friends, fans and, most important, his music to bring everyone together to honor a cause close to his heart. The night, emceed by Rhett Miller of Old 97’s, marked the end of a four-concert stretch of shows across the U.S. in honor of Smith’s birthday, organized by Smith’s sister Ashley Welch. All proceeds went to New Alternatives, a New York City–based organization to help homeless LGBT youth. Welch shared her personal story of how her brother was the first person she told she was gay. Welch knew him for his big heart, and she mentioned how when he was living in New York City, Smith would stuff bills into the shoes of homeless people he saw sleeping on the street, never anything less than a $20.

Saturday’s show featured many guest performers and friends—some who knew Smith well and others who knew him only through his music—sharing their stories. The night’s first set came from Smith’s former manager JJ Gonson’s band Meat Industry. Smith’s close friend Mary Lou Lord brought out with her the big star of the night, her 14-year-old daughter Annabelle, herself a big Smith fan, who sang and played through “St. Ides Heaven” and “I Figured You Out.” Young Hines traveled all the way from Nashville for the night, performing Smith’s most well-known song, “Needle in the Hay.” And Katarina Guerra sang her way through beautiful renditions of “Twilight” and “Between the Bars,” managing to bring out that haunting gorgeousness of Smith’s singing style.

The legendary Bob Dorough covered “Waltz #1” in addition to one of Smith’s favorites, a song he penned for Schoolhouse Rock!, “Figure 8.” Sirius XM DJ Jenny Eliscu shared her story about Smith’s inane ability to cheer up other people and how he stood by her side after her date stood her up at The Bowery Ballroom for a Neutral Milk Hotel show in 1998. Christina Courtin played two of the night’s biggest sing-alongs, “Angeles” and “Rose Parade.” Unannounced guests included Joseph Arthur, who played “Alameda” and was later joined by Pat Sansone of Wilco, who played “Waltz #2” and “Say Yes.” The night ended with everyone returning to the stage together to perform “Happiness” joined by every voice in the audience. There was only one missing. —Dan Rickerhsauser

Photos courtesy of Peter Senzamici | petersenzamici.com