Magazine article The New Yorker

Elijah

Magazine article The New Yorker

Elijah

Article excerpt

Eight years ago, Michael Dorf, who founded the Knitting Factory and now owns City Winery, staged the first of his perennial charitable tribute concerts at Carnegie Hall. The honoree was Joni Mitchell. Offering up a token payment, a chance to play Carnegie Hall, and the Karmic benefits of raising money for the musical education of underprivileged kids, Dorf enlisted twenty-one artists to perform her songs. Mitchell signed on, too, but a few hours before showtime she called to say that she wasn't going to make it. Her cat was sick. As she explained the significance of this, at great length, Dorf, in spite of his deep admiration for her work, found himself thinking, Um, I gotta go. That night, she sent him fifty yellow roses.

The ensuing years brought tributes to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, REM, The Who, and Neil Young. Sometimes the honorees showed (Springsteen, REM), sometimes they did not. This year, Dorf chose the Rolling Stones--specifically, "Hot Rocks," their mid-prime compilation of greatest hits. First he embarked on the delicate task (a variation on the so-called "stable-marriage problem") of finding twenty-one artists to perform the album's twenty-one songs--allotting them generally on a first-come, first-served basis. The first one was easy: Marianne Faithful would sing "As Tears Go By." Steve Earle, an early yes, claimed "Mother's Little Helper." Rosanne Cash requested "Ruby Tuesday." It was hers, until Art Garfunkel asked for it, too, so Cash got "Gimme Shelter." The last one to come aboard was Angelique Kidjo, a singer from Benin, and she wound up with "Street Fighting Man." Point being, there wasn't really a dud in the bunch.

The day before the show, as the tributers rehearsed at City Winery with the night's house band, led by the guitarist Lenny Kaye, Dorf, who is forty-nine, attended to his remaining obligations: cutting checks, assigning dressing rooms. "I have six dressing rooms for twenty-one artists," he said. "A couple of them have what you might call 'particular demands.' " He declined to enumerate them but said, "Let's just say there are a couple who'd like their own dressing rooms." He was trying to group people according to who he felt might get along. "Sometimes I get it right, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes, maybe, I fail to realize that their spouses slept together."

As for the Stones, he said, "Fingers are crossed on Keith." Customarily, when Dorf, as a courtesy, asks the honorees for permission, he also invites them to attend or even to perform. Early on, he'd reached out to Keith Richards's manager, Jane Rose. "She didn't say yes, she didn't say no. …

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