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Kent Friends Hit New York for Sandy Benefit Concert

Wednesday’s benefit at Madison Square Garden viewed worldwide

Music fans and the media are still buzzing about this week’s mega-benefit concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Many of the top names in rock and popular music performed at the 12.12.12. Concert for Hurricane Sandy Relief, a massive effort to aid victims of the recent superstorm.

I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the nearly six-hour historic show, attending with my friend and Kent resident Mike Beder, owner of the Water Street Tavern, and Marty Student of Stow.

Student, who is the regional sales manager at WNIR-FM, couldn’t believe his luck at getting the chance to buy $250 tickets during the pre-sale for Chase cardholders. “I was stunned,” Student said. “Then it started to sink in I was really going to be there.”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band opened the show with an uplifting Land of Hope and Dreams, from his recent Wrecking Ball album. Springsteen is a master at setting the right tone for events such as these, and he was the perfect choice to kick off the show. The Boss’s set included a powerful My City in Ruins and a duet with fellow Jersey boy Jon Bon Jovi on the classic Born to Run.

Roger Waters followed, blending classic Pink Floyd hits with strange visuals and even a hip hop dance troupe.

Bon Jovi absolutely rocked the house with It’s My Life and Wanted Dead or Alive before Springsteen returned the favor and joined them for Who Says You Can’t Go Home.

Eric Clapton dug deep into his catalog during his three-song set, though it seemed like he really didn’t connect with the Garden audience.

The Rolling Stones were late additions to the bill, and anticipation for the “greatest rock and roll band in the world” was at fever pitch when they took the stage. The group, currently marking their 50th anniversary, opened with You Got Me Rocking, a forgettable tune for 1994’s Voodoo Lounge. But they absolutely killed a powerful Jumpin’ Jack Flash, with Ron Wood and Keith Richards locking in a fierce groove.

The Stones were slated to perform for 15 minutes, but they were gone in a flash, opting to play only two songs.  I’ve yet to find an official explanation for the quick exit.

Alicia Keys looked positively radiant as she commanded the audience during renditions of Brand New Me and No One.

After their performance at the 2010 Super Bowl, I was a bit apprehensive about The Who’s abilities, but the veteran British rockers did not disappoint. Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry were in fine form for their 6-song set, with See Me Feel Me and Pinball Wizard as standouts.

Kanye West rocked a leather kilt during his medley of hits, but his set was marred by shaky sound. I hope it came off better on TV.

Like Springsteen and and Bon Jovi, many of the Sandy artists have special connections to the areas hardest hit by the storm. That’s part of the reason Billy Joel’s appearance was so comforting, but even ardent fans were surprised by how could the “Piano Man” sounded. His crack band shone on Movin Out, Only the Good Die Young and, and of course, New York State of Mind.

Some of the show’s highlights came from somewhat unexpected places. We all agreed on two favorites: Eddie Vedder joining Roger Waters for a powerful rendition of Comfortably Numb and former REM frontman Michael Stipe dueting with Coldplay’s Chris Martin on a lovely Losing My Religion.

It was no surprise that Paul McCartney was selected to end the marathon event, but those expecting Beatle hits such as Let It Be and Hey Jude (including yours truly) were surprised by a set of some unexpected selections.

Sir Paul opening with a blistering Helter Skelter, and then opted for deep Wings cuts such as Let Me Roll It and Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five and the Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling.

We were just as stunned as everyone else in the arena when the remaining members of Nirvana joined McCartney for a new song, Cut Me Some Slack. Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear shared the stage for the first time in 18 years, with the former Beatle taking over the late Kurt Cobain’s role. The audience in the Garden was a bit dumfounded by the sonic assault, but I think the new tune will get a lot of YouTube action in the coming days.

As McCartney invited police, firefighters and other safety workers on stage, Alicia Keys returned to close the show with Empire State of Mind. It was the perfect ending to a magical night.

We arrived in Manhattan early on Wednesday, and we spent the day visiting music-related landmarks such as the Strawberry Fields area of Central Park,  Café Wha in Greenwich Village and the Ed Sullivan Theater, site of the first U.S. Beatles performance and home of the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

The 12.12.12 concert was broadcast to more than 2 billion households worldwide. Thirty-seven U.S. networks and television feeds broadcast the show in North and South America, Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia. Select theaters in hurricane-affected areas aired a live simulcast of the show, free of charge, and the concert streamed live online on platforms around the world.

The concert was produced by the same group that put together the historic 9/11 benefit “The Concert for New York City”. The Sandy benefit now ranks up there with that concert, the Concert for Bangladesh, Live Aid and Live 8 as one of the greatest collections of artists performing for a good cause.

You can still donate to that cause at the 12.12.12 concert website, and a live album is already available for pre-order on iTunes.

New Jersey native Student actually attended the Concert for Bangladesh, held at Madison Square Garden in August of 1971. That concert created the model for charity benefit events, but Student says Wednesday’s show had special importance for him.

“I really like that the Robin Hood Foundation is insuring that every cent raised will go to non-profit groups that are helping the tens of thousands of people who have been affected by storm,” Student said.

“It was one for the ages,” Beder said.

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