The Hippo


Jul 19, 2019








Tom Petty Tribute Night

When: Saturday, Oct. 21, 7 p.m.
Where: New England College, 67 N. Main St., Concord

Area musicians mourn Tom Petty

By Michael Witthaus

 Of all the losses endured in the musical world over the past two years, the death of Tom Petty is perhaps the hardest to reconcile. A week before his death, Petty was on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, closing out the most triumphant tour of his 40-year career. More than that, some of the most well-received songs played that night came from recent albums. 

Tom Petty never needed to hit the road as an annuity act. From the opening chords of “Rockin’ Around With You” on the eponymous 1976 debut album by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, to the furious “Forgotten Man” on 2014’s Hypnotic Eye, Petty and his band stayed relevant in a rock and roll landscape littered with dinosaurs. 
It seemed he’d play forever; then, in a moment, he was gone.
Early on, Petty put down New England roots; the first TPHB live album was recorded at Paul’s Mall, a now defunct club in Boston. They played all over the city, clubs like the Rat and Paradise, then on to the Orpheum and Great Woods, finally selling out TD Garden for two nights last July. 
The first time Petty & the Heartbreakers came to New Hampshire, Rob Azevedo was in the crowd, fists pumping. 
“Arms Park in Manchester, my first concert,” Azevedo recalled a few days after Petty’s death. 
The Del Fuegos opened, a band that included future Petty biographer and Concord native Warren Zanes. 
The show was in support of 1987’s Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), a record that resonated with the then 17-year-old. 
“It hit every chord of emotion I was going through,” he said. “Jammin’ Me” in particular put steel in my back, because I was an upper middle class suburban kid who wanted to get away from all the country club mentality I lived in — it spoke to me.”
Azevedo discovered Petty in his early teens, riding the train into Boston to score a copy of Long After Dark at Stairway to Heaven Records. 
“There’s something about the attitude on that record,” he said. “I still listen ‘Change of Heart’ like it’s the first time I’m hearing it, every time. That song is never worn out.”
Azevedo is the host of Granite State of Mind, a weekly program on Concord radio station WKXL that showcases regional musicians. He’s also a tirelesss supporter of the local scene, and a few months back he began organizing tribute nights at New England College in Concord, each dedicated to the catalog of a single artist. 
He had an evening of Rolling Stones music scheduled for Oct. 21, but when he got the news about Petty, that changed. A Facebook post asking for artists got an immediate response, as over a dozen musicians stepped up. Singer-songwriter Walker Smith was the first to name a song — two, actually: “Wildflowers” and “Into the Great Wide Open.”
Don Bartenstein chimed in with “Breakdown” and the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care.” Lichen co-founder John Zevos asked to play “I Won’t Back Down” and “Last Night,” the latter another Wilburys song.  As if to underscore Petty’s multigenerational reach, high schooler Jade Marie volunteered to sing “Yer So Bad.” Jasmine Mann will put a Stevie Nicks stamp on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”
Turnsoul, Chris Peters, Eric Ray Gustafson, Will Hatch and Joe Messineo are among the members of the  state’s  musical fraternity who will also contribute. Epping singer-songwriter Dean Harlem will open the night with “Southern Accents,” while Rest Stop Acquaintances, featuring Eric Seldon Ober, will perform “End of the Line” and “American Girl.” The latter was the final song ever played by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers; it ended the final show in Los Angeles.
Azevedo’s feelings echo most Petty fans — he loves the music, but he’d rather buy another concert ticket than do this show. It will be different from all the other tribute nights, even those devoted to musicians now gone. 
“When Lemmy passed, it was like I couldn’t  believe he wasn’t dead yet, and with Bowie there were rumors of cancer,”  he said. “But nothing prepared me for Petty.”
His death still hasn’t quite sunk in; it may not ever. 
“I’m still walking around just stunned whenever I listen to one of his songs,” Azevedo said. “It’s gonna feel less a celebration of his music than a mourning of his passing.” 

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