In October, the music world was shaken to its core over the unexpected loss of a truly great songwriter, Tom Petty.
Like so many others, I grew up listening to Tom’s music. One of the first songs I learned on acoustic guitar was “Runnin’ Down a Dream” so his music was a very big part of my musical journey from the beginning and I’ve never forgotten that.
September 25 of this year, my band celebrated my birthday and my drummer Clark’s birthday by going to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Hollywood Bowl together. Being a longtime fan, I was thrilled to finally see him in concert. Hitting you with classic song after classic song, Tom’s setlist read almost like a greatest hits album with no filler to run to the concession stand or take a break. It was at that point that I realized what an incredible talent he was to have such a strong and quality catalog to pull from. It’s no wonder he was celebrating a 40 year long career on this tour.
As Tom took a moment to introduce the Heartbreakers towards the end of the show, he shared a quick story how each individual member came to be part of the band.
It felt almost like your uncle or grandfather retelling the glory days of his youth, everyone in the crowd captivated and entertained by these very personal and sometimes humorous tales of how the band came to be. You could sense a very deep respect and brotherhood amongst everyone in the band that as a musician, I appreciated and admired seeing.
As the band came back to the stage for their encore, they first played “Wreck Me” and ended the night and the tour with the fan favorite “American Girl”. When they took their final bows after a successful tour and 3 night residency at the Bowl, the crowd roared and applauded an incredible night of music, not knowing that would be his last.
One week later, the news hits that Tom Petty had passed away and the world responded in a big way.
Tributes poured out from artist and fan alike celebrating Tom’s life and his music. While various artists (including my band Love and a .38) paid our respects in song during concerts, Mary Soracco of Sherman Oaks put together a memorial walk to honor Tom in the San Fernando Valley. As the lyrics of “Free Fallin’” go, “all the vampires walking through the valley move west down Ventura Boulevard.” And that’s exactly what we did. On October 19, a few hundred people gathered at the Sherman Oaks Galleria to celebrate his music. After a moment of silence was taken, myself and a few other guitarists including Tom Petty tribute artist Erik Szabo led the crowd in song as we played and sung “Free Fallin” while we walked together down Ventura.
Once we got back to the Galleria, the crowd didn’t want to leave so we continued to go through Tom’s catalog and performed for two hours. The unity and community I felt with everyone that gathered there was reminiscent of the Beatles’ famous rooftop performance or the U2 video for “Streets With No Name.” There was something so incredibly moving and powerful about all these strangers coming together to laugh, cry and heal through music.
Even as the musicians were interviewed by the LA Weekly about what Tom’s music meant to us and what brought us to come out to the event that night, two of the guitarists introduced themselves to each other to which the reporter quickly asked, “You guys didn’t know each other before this?” I replied “none of us did, and that is the power and beauty of music. It brought us together to play and create together and allow this mass of people the ability to heal and feel a little bit better about this loss.”