For the past seven years, the Tucson Kitchen Musicians Association (TKMA), which sponsors the two-day festival, has celebrated the end of summer with a benefit tribute show. Within this all-acoustic showcase, as many as two dozen performers focus on a designated songwriter/icon, and any song within the artist's catalog is up for grabs.
Over the years, this has produced some challenges, as well as some surprises. When it came to Hank Williams, everybody knows "Hey Good Lookin'" and "Jambalaya," but musicians were sent scurrying to the Internet in order to find enough tunes to carry a whole night.
And then there was the Joni Mitchell night from several years ago. Because so many of her songs were written with unusual guitar tunings and odd time signatures, one TKMA musician was heard to quip, "They ought to give out T-shirts saying, 'I survived the Joni Mitchell tribute!'" That same night also produced Mark Holdaway's exquisite instrumental rendition of "Woodstock," played solo on the kalimba.
"It's always interesting to see how musicians will approach a song," says Linda Lou Reed. Her group, Linda Lou and the Desert Drifters, has been a staple at this event. But as a former TKMA officer, her efforts have been more significant behind the scenes. From the beginning, she was instrumental in helping to develop and then sustain the tribute night as a late-summer tradition.
"The first time we did this, we were working with Ted Warmbrand on a tribute to Woody Guthrie," said Reed. Warmbrand and his promotion company, Itzaboutime, already had a relationship with the Unitarian Universalist Church, having held a number of shows there to benefit causes for social justice, including a successful tribute to musician/activist Malvina Reynolds the previous year. The Guthrie night was Itzaboutime's follow-up to the Reynolds show, and it gave TKMA an opportunity to bring in additional musicians. The Guthrie tribute also incorporated a soup-and-bread dinner, with proceeds from the meal benefiting the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen.
"In fact, for years, we used goods from Casa Maria to make the soup," recalls Reed. "And the church still donates the space for free."
Thus began a tradition. The Guthrie tribute was followed annually with evenings dedicated to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Kate Wolf, Mitchell and Williams, and last year's show combined Carole King and Laura Nyro. (Who knew King was writing songs for Herman's Hermits and the Monkees?)
Reed, who still spearheads the event, e-mails an open invitation to dozens of musicians and waits to see who responds. She then keeps track of who's going to play, and what they want to perform.
"We find there is such an abundance of music that doesn't usually get performed," says Reed, and so people jump at the chance to do two or three songs they either know or want to learn for the event.
This year's show is an evening dedicated to the Beatles. Featured performers will include Namoli Brennet, Elise Grecco, Duncan Stitt, Robert Oser and Eb Eberlein, among others.
"I've always been most attracted to John (Lennon)'s music," says Eberlein. "One of the songs I'll be doing is 'Cry Baby Cry.' It's a gorgeous lullaby written for one of his kids." This gem, originally from the "White Album," epitomizes the richness and diversity within any given evening's program. "For No One," from Revolver, will be another one of Eberlein's selections. "That was part of my repertoire 30 years ago. When you learn something you really like, it stays with you."
One final hallmark of the TKMA tribute show is its grand finale, with anyone who wants to join in getting up on stage to play and sing a classic.
This year, who wouldn't want to sing "All You Need Is Love"?