Last night, the legends of folk music and the stars of the upcoming Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, took over Town Hall in New York City for “Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating The Music of Inside Llewyn Davis.” The once-in-a-lifetime concert was a mix of old school fundraiser, folk music tribute, and publicity event, but it also was the place to be to see some of the most transcendent folk music performances we’ve seen in ages from the likes of Patti Smith, Joan Baez, Gillan Welch, Jack White and Marcus Mumford, as well as the public’s first chance to hear Carey Mulligan and Oscar Isaac perform songs from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack.
It was an absolutely incredible night for folk music, but what 10 things should you know now before the concert airs on Showtime on December 13?
1) The Line Up Was Insane
Take a deep breath, because here we go…performing at “Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating The Music of Inside Llewyn Davis” were Marcus Mumford, Jack White, Joan Baez, Patti Smith, the Avett Brothers, (surprise guest) Elvis Costello, Conor Oberst, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, Rhiannon Giddens, Punch Brothers, Willie Watson, Keb’ Mo’, Bob Neuwirth, Colin Meloy, The Milk Carton Kids, Lake Street Dive, Secret Sisters, and I’m worried I forgot someone.
Oh! Right! The stars of Inside Llewyn Davis also performed. So, the crowd was treated to performances from Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Stark Sands and Adam Driver.
Anyone else? Yes. John Goodman and Garrett Hedlund presented various bands throughout the night (as did Mulligan and Driver).
Oh, and of course, T Bone Burnett, the Coen Brothers’s music guru—you might remember their Oscar-winning collaboration on O Brother Where Art Thou?— was there.
Insane, right? All in one concert. And I’m not even going to get into how every celebrity in New York City seemed to be in attendance.2) Okay, Why Were All Those Amazing Artists And All Those Famous People There For?
Technically, it was a benefit concert for the National Recording Preservation Archives. Meaning, the proceeds and donations collected from the concert are going to help save old recordings of folk music.
However, it was organized by the Coen Brothers and their music supervisor, T Bone Burnett, and featured songs and performers from their new film Inside Llewyn Davis. So, the concert also felt a little like a giant P.R. event for the movie that comes out in December.
In the end, “Another Day, Another Time,” was a mix of both of those things, as well as something more. It was a tribute to the folk music pioneers of yesteryear, a celebration of folk artists killing it today and a preview of the innovators who are about to reinvent the genre for ensuing generations.
But enough about that. What you really want to know about is how Elvis Costello faired as Justin Timberlake’s understudy, if Carey Mulligan can sing live, how Patti Smith sort of embarrassed herself, which acts gave potentially career-making performances, and if all the hype about Inside Llewyn Davis’s star, Oscar Isaac, is deserved. So let’s get to that…
[Photo Credit: Rahav Segev, courtesy of CBS Films]3) Meet Justin Timberlake’s Understudy: Elvis Costello
All of the stars from Inside Llewyn Davis showed up on stage save for one: Justin Timberlake, who was performing on stage in London at the iTunes Festival. It seemed that someone had to step up and fill in for the absent Mr. Timberlake and that person was music legend Elvis Costello.
Let’s just say that Costello’s surprise appearance wasn’t a disappointment to anyone in the theater and his entrance spurred the first of many standing ovations from patches of patrons in the crowd.
Oh, and as understudies for Justin Timberlake go, Costello was pretty good.
Alright, he was extraordinary.4) Patti Smith’s Fabulous Faux Pas
Patti Smith started her set covering a song she had first heard Joan Baez sing in the ’60s, but followed it up with a massive jam performance of her own song, “People Have The Power.” The only problem? When she explained that the song was written for the intention of bringing people together to work for change and play music together, she blurted out, “I don’t know who all these people are, but I’m glad they’re here!” Which drew some embarrassed blushes from the lesser known acts on stage and left Smith laughing in embarrassment at her own faux pas.
It was funny and fun. You had to have been there.5) The Three Acts You May Never Have Heard Of, But Whose Music You Need To Listen To Now
Because the event was a sonic smorgasbord of musical legends, folk favorites and young unknowns, the audiences’ reactions to the acts ranged from rapt adulation, friendly applause and whispers of “Who are these people?” Remember, Patti Smith had no clue whom she was singing with…
Because music coordinator T Bone Burnett has impeccable taste in music and a decisive eye for talent, none of these lesser known acts disappointed. However, there were three in particular who showed they have the chops (or the star quality) to follow the likes of the Avett Brothers and Marcus Mumford into the mainstream.
The Punch Brothers opened and closed the show, and they also played back up on nearly every other set of the night. Their ubiquity caused Marcus Mumford to quip towards the end of the night that they were the “house band.” He also noted that “someone should pay them a lot of money,” and he’s right. The contemporary bluegrass band showed themselves equal to the task of being bigger stars and well, now that Mumford & Sons is on a hiatus, they might just be the group to fill that nufolk gap in the market.
Lake Street Dive also surprised the audience. They were third in a cluster of lesser known acts (including the also great Milk Carton Kids and Secret Sisters), but by the audience’s reaction when they took the stage, appeared to be the least well known. However, as soon as they started playing, they had the crowd on their side. They sound like what would happen if Amy Winehouse went folk, which trust me, is not a bad thing.
That said, Rhiannon Giddens might have given the performance of the night. The chanteuse is most known for being the lead singer and banjo player for the Carolina Chocolate Drops, but last night she wowed the audience by singing two incendiary folk ballads (one not in English) in the style of torch songs. Seriously, she was incandescent. I was slack-jawed the whole time.6) Can Carey Mulligan Sing (Well) Live?
Ever since she warbled “New York, New York” in Shame, critics have been divided about the quality of Carey Mulligan’s voice. Some absolutely love her pretty tone and emotionally fraught tremble, where as others remain less than impressed.
As poised and graceful as Mulligan appears on stage, she was visibly nervous last night. First she sang “Go To Sleep You Little Baby” with Gillian Welch and Rhiannon Giddens and seemed adorably relieved when it was over–which she played off to the crowd. Later, she almost apologized before singing “500 Miles” and begged the audience for support. Mulligan sang the Peter, Paul and Mary classic with Stark Sands, Elvis Costello, and a massive backing band. Once she finished her solo, the generous crowd at Town Hall gave her resounding–and deserved–applause.
Mulligan’s temerity was definitely the only drawback to her performance. Folk music is full of singer-songwriters who possess varying degrees of vocal range. The only thing the greats need is the ability to convey deep emotion while holding that tune, and Mulligan can do that.7) Oscar Isaac Lives Up To The Hype…But Does He Know That He Does?
If Carey Mulligan seemed unsure of herself while singing onstage alongside folk legends, the star of Inside Llewyn Davis, Oscar Isaac, certainly didn’t. Isaac took the stage with the easy confidence of an experienced musician–because he is one. He knew how to play to the crowd and how to play off of his fellow musicians.
Now, we can’t say anything about his performance in the film yet, but The Huffington Post recently suggested that Isaac could be poised to be Hollywood’s next great leading man. The Julliard trained character actor certainly has the acting chops and the stage presence to pull it off. He illustrated last night that he’s also as good a musician and singer as the best in the business. He had a silent, but seductive, charm on stage and a megawatt smile you could see even when his back was cheated away from you. Oh, and he’s really handsome. Like, he’s ridiculously good-looking, but not so much so that you hate him for it.
If there’s one thing that could really hold Isaac back, it’s himself. When pushed into the spotlight by Marcus Mumford and T Bone Burnett, Isaac seemed at ease with himself in a confident way that was neither cocky nor insecure. He was clearly enjoying himself, but not in an ugly, attention-grubbing way. Oh, and the crowd and all his fellow performers clearly loved him.
The problem? He had to be repeatedly pushed into the spotlight as though he had forgotten he was one of the headliners. So, he can obviously handle it, but does he want it enough to step forward on his own? Does he have the hunger to be more than just one of the best actors of his generation? Does he have the ambition to be a movie star? Does he even know it’s an option for him? Because it is. He can very easily become a movie star.8) New Meets Old Meets New
One of the big themes of the night was how folk singers take the songs of the past and reinvent them for today. Up-and-coming groups like the Milk Carton Boys and Secret Sisters pointed the way to where folk music might be evolving, but it was the masters of the craft who showed how well-worn songs can sound brand new with the right arrangements and with the singer’s unique perspective on the lyrics.
Early on in the night, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings invigorated “This Land Is Your Land” to such a degree that it ceased to be a hokey old song from my childhood years and later, Joan Baez sang one of the most haunting versions of “The House of the Rising Sun” I’ve ever heard.9) Be They Ever So Humble
Even though the concert was stuffed to the brim with celebrities on and off stage, humility was the theme of the night.
All the artists seemed so grateful and so exuberant to be performing together and in an entertainment industry where stars seem more bent on outshining each other, it was a refreshing sight to see.
Patti Smith fangirled out over Joan Baez and called her a “humble goddess” in rapturous tones. Joan Baez, in turn, marveled that her “cool factor” went up because she shared the stage with Elvis Costello and later Marcus Mumford. And the circle went ironically unbroken, when Marcus Mumford allowed himself an “OMG” moment by telling the audience, “That’s Joan F*CKING Baez.”
The acts weren’t just humbled to be in the presence of one another; they were undone a bit by the response they got for themselves. Rhiannon Giddons just about blushed all over her body when an audience member whistled before her transcendent set (whether that whistle was due because the gentleman knew what was coming musically or because she looked glorious in a figure-hugging red lace gown is unknown). Most of the acts spent their time on stage grinning with gleeful disbelief that they were even there. Oscar Isaac may have stated it best when he addressed the audience for the first time and said, “I’m just so humble to be at this table.”10) Fare Thee Well
The night was full of incredible performances (I haven’t even had a chance to mention how the Avett Brothers brought the house down or how Jack White killed and then seemingly mysteriously disappeared into the ether the way you want Jack White to mysteriously disappear) and everything felt like it was getting bigger and better as the night went on.
It all led to the final two performances: the first was Marcus Mumford and Oscar Isaac joining forces on the recently released track, “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song),” and the second was Mumford & the Punch Brothers bringing a new take on Bob Dylan’s “Farewell.”
And that was it. It was a deliriously packed and almost overwhelming night. Oh, and you’ll be able to see it on Showtime on December 13 at 9 PM. Inside Llewyn Davis opens in cinemas on December 6.