Say you are Elton John and you are bringing back your annual Oscar watch party to live audiences for the first time in three years after COVID delays. But you have a show in Nebraska scheduled the same night as the Oscars. So what do you do?
True, the Elton John Oscar party, benefiting his AIDS Foundation, has always featured other performers, from Greta Van Fleet and Ed Sheeran to Dua Lipa at last year’s virtual event. But when it is your thirtieth anniversary, as this year was, and John cannot be there, it does feel like there’s an extra amount of pressure on finding the right artist.
So, again, who do you get? How about the only artist in the world today — hell, maybe ever — with the nerves of steel to get up and perform Joni Mitchell’s landmark Blue from start to finish in front of Mitchell. Oh, and by the way, John was seated right next to Mitchell in that first performance at L.A’s Disney Hall so he was witness to that historic night.
There could have not been a single better artist in music today to carry the flag for John and his AIDS Foundation on this night than Brandi Carlile. Aside from the fact she is such a fan of John and they are friends, if any artist was going to rise to the occasion it would be the woman with the guts to perform Blue in front of Mitchell.
After the Oscar telecast and the shot heard round the world, which Carlile did quip about, saying during her set, “It’s been a long night, but nobody punched anybody on stage here tonight,” the Grammy winner and her band took the stage around 9:30 in the giant tent she described as like, “Playing in a giant vagina.”
Ease and confidence is only part of why Carlile has become a go-to artist for legends like Mitchell and John. Watching the show with iconic music manager Andy Gould, who has seen it all in the industry, he raved about how Carlile is a throwback to the type of music that people came up on in the Seventies.
Indeed, it’s easy to see how Carlile would have been welcomed in the hallowed troubadour circles of that era’s singer/songwriter movement, where Carly Simon opened for Cat Stevens and Harry Chapin and James Taylor and Carole King played L.A’s Troubadour together. Of all of today’s artists Carlile is without question the artist who could’ve stood in that scene the most.
She showed that musically during the outstanding hour-long set, where she and her stellar band rocked a cover of Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” and she and friend Jake Wesley Rogers delivered a standout rendition of John’s “Rocket Man.”
Of her own songs she delivered great interpretations of “You And Me On The Rock” and “This Time Tomorrow” from last year’s masterful In These Silent Days album. But the peak, as they are every set she does, were her stunning versions of her own “The Story” and “The Joke,” which somehow, every night, lives up to her perfect career-defining Grammy performance of the song.
The final piece that makes Carlile the best bridge between today’s scene and yesterday’s legends is her deep appreciation and love of music history. She is well aware of the importance and legacy she is representing. And she articulated that beautifully at the end of her set last night when she talked about being a kid and learning about the stigma of HIV from hearing about Ryan White. It was learning about White, she said, that brought her to the music of Elton John as a child. So she was keenly aware of what last night meant and while as much as it was important to deliver a great show, the event is and always will be first about raising money and fighting the stigma against AIDS as David Furnish, John’s husband and chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, has told me multiple times.
So, at the end of the day, the most important thing about last night is the event raised 8.6 million dollars in the fight against AIDS. Just further proof John and Furnish could not have found a better representative for the night and John’s music than Carlile.