Tom Morello Tears Down ‘Velvet Rope’ for Social Justice with Jackson Browne

Concert For Social Change - photo © 2015 Donna Balancia
Concert For Social Change - photo © 2015 Donna Balancia
Tom Morello photo by Donna Balancia
Tom Morello photo © 2015 Donna Balancia


HOLLYWOOD — With veteran rockers like David Crosby and Graham Nash and Jackson Browne, and up-and-comers like La Santa Cecilia and Rocky Dawuni, The Concert For Social Justice was one of the most inspiring concerts of the year.

It wasn’t the encore of “This Land Is Your Land,” that did it, although a concert finale that gathers Melissa Etheridge, Tom Morello and a bevy of actors and audience members to sing a well-known second-grade song is rousing.

The Concert For Social Justice at The Fonda Theatre last Wednesday night brought together a diverse group of people who want to deliver the message through song.  And it’s inspiring that singing out a message isn’t banned in our country yet. 

Jackson Browne - photo © 2015 Donna Balancia
Jackson Browne – photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

After all, as our First Amendment rights and every day habits are being taken away by corporate greed and government mismanagement, it’s amazing we are allowed to gather and sing about pretty much whatever we want.  We still have that.

It’s rewarding to know how many people donate their time for a cause.  Billy Ray Cyrus, Martin Sheen, Chad Lowe, Alfre Woodard were among the actors who participated in the show.  The show was produced by RFK Human Rights and The GRAMMY Museum.

Both are both super organizations that do plenty for others, like putting on this concert that benefits the organizations’ joint K-12 education program, Speak Up Sing Out: Songs of Conscience.  The program invites middle-school and high-school students to write songs about social justice issues.

Melissa Etheridge - Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia
Melissa Etheridge – Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

And of course, the fans and VIPs who packed The Fonda Theatre and for the most part, it was a nice-looking group of well-heeled Californians.

And to have The Fonda Theatre on a Wednesday night is great, but remember, at the Fonda, you “can’t go in and out,” of the front entrance.  Even if you leave your cell phone in the taxi.  But that’s another story.

The audience was comprised mostly of those who were just old enough to go to the record store and buy Crosby Still Nash and Young’s Deja Vu album.  And since 1970, the year the album was released, many things have changed.  For one thing, while amply capable, the once-foursome is now most often Crosby and songwriter Nash who perform “Teach Your Children.”   In addition to the obvious absences of Neil Young and Stephen Stills, on the original recording, the late, great Jerry Garcia performed steel pedal.

David Crosby - Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia
David Crosby – Photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

One original from the album remains the same.  The superbly kind and professional Henry Diltz was on hand to photograph the concert.  Deja Vu is among Diltz’ more than vast portfolio of work dating back to the 1960s.  He is co-owner with Peter Blachley and Rich Horowitz of The Morrison Hotel Galleries in New York City, West Hollywood and the new location at the W Hotel in Hollywood.

Morello riled up the audience telling them to “take down the velvet rope” that separates the audience by class, and ticket price.  It probably isn’t a great feeling to be on stage and see a wall-to-wall 3-foot gap between the photographers in the pit and the adoring audience.  So Morello encouraged the audience to break down at least some barrier in their lives.  Even as a symbolic gesture it caused a rush of people to the front and a lot more happy faces.

La Santa Cecilia photo © 2015 Donna Balancia
Students and Actors like Alfre Woodard perform spoken word – photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

Etheridge sang some fun ones including her well-known “Bring Me Some Water,” and hosted her own secret confessions, telling the audience that she is a lesbian and she is in favor of legalizing pot.

Produced by RFK Human Rights and The GRAMMY Museum — and sponsored by 88.5 KCSN — The Concert For Social Justice featured veterans, but was really about enabling young musicians to find and create their messages for social change through songwriting.  It’s a wonderful initiative, and Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Bobby Kennedy, is the driving force.

Kennedy — with Bob Santelli, executive director of The GRAMMY Museum, at her side — thanked Browne profusely for his help, his time and his ability to gather like-minded artists to perform for the cause.  Of course, Browne looks great and is going on tour to promote his album Standing In The Breach.  He is a mellow presence among the group of fun rabble rousers.

And while headlined by Browne, Etheridge, Morello, and Crosby and Nash, the spotlight was on young artists like Rocky Dawuni and La Santa Cecilia.

Dawuni was impressive with his friendly demeanor and endearing efforts to get the audience to repeat his reggae chorus.  He is cool and his style is energetic and uplifting.

La Santa Cecilia - photo by Donna Balancia
La Santa Cecilia – photo © 2015 Donna Balancia

La Santa Cecilia is a treat with their colorful performance and up tempo music that combines beats from different regions and a style that mixes jazz, rock, tango and bolero. The band won a GRAMMY Award in 2014 for Best Latin Rock Album.

But the members of La Santa Cecilia were not the youngest people on the stage.

Jade Rhodes from the Brentwood School in Los Angeles was the first winner of the RFK Human Rights Speak Up Sing Out Music Contest and she brought the house to tears with her song, “Invisible.”  Written, and performed at the piano on Wednesday by Rhodes, “Invisible,” is based on how she imagines an immigrant student may feel in a new school.

And after Etheridge, Crosby and Nash, Morello, Browne, Dawuni and La Santa Cecilia and the actors all took the stage for the finale of “This Land Is Your Land,” Rhodes stepped up, front and center, and sang the loudest of them all.

Now that’s inspiring.