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Review: ‘Come Together:  A Celebration of John Lennon’ at The Kennedy Center

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At a time when we can only imagine a world without walls of division and exclusion, the Annual Kennedy Center’s Spring Gala concert, Come Together:  A Celebration of John Lennon, reached for the stars to create new bridges of hope and understanding.

2017 Kennedy Center Spring Gala. Esperanza Spalding. Photo by Teresa Wood.

John Lennon was a prolific songwriter as well as a singer in one of the most influential bands in the history of popular music, the Beatles. Monday night’s stellar concert in tribute to this music icon, performed by legendary singers and songwriters in their own right, was not only a successful Kennedy Center fundraiser to support the arts but also the second annual Kennedy Center Awards for the Human Spirit to honor exceptional contributions to promote diversity in the arts.

Acclaimed Hollywood Actor David Duchovny was host for the evening with T Bone Burnett as Executive Music Director and David Mansfield as Music Director.

Deborah F. Rutter, President, and David M. Rubenstein, Chairman of the Kennedy Center,  introduced this spectacular gala celebration by presenting a Citizen Artist Award to Afa and Aaron Dworkin and a Distinguished Philanthropist Award to  Joan and Sanford Weill, respectively,  for “using the arts to make things better.”

After a round of inspirational acceptance speeches by the honorees, the concert blasted open with the night’s resounding theme song, “Come Together”.

2017 Kennedy Center Spring Gala. (L to R)Taj Mahal, Jim James, Shawn Colvin, and David Duchovny. Photo by Teresa Wood.

A star-studded lineup of some of the most diverse musicians, singers, arrangers, songwriters, music producers, dancers, and TV, stage and film performers on the arts scene today performed the best of John Lennon’s original music: Corinne Bailey Rae, Judy Collins, Shawn Colvin, Jim James, Amos Lee, Taj Mahal, Esperanza Spalding, Steven Van Zandt, and the Rennie Harris Puremovement dance troupe.

Fusing every musical genre, including pop, rock and roll, blues, gospel, hip-hop, R&B, folk and funk, each artist gave their own creative interpretation to John Lennon’s wonderful works.

“Instant Karma” with David Duchovny and Corinne Bailey Rae on “Don’t Let Me Down” kicked off an evening of 13 of John Lennon’s most memorable melodies.

Esperanza Spalding’s bluesy, gospel performance of “Mother” put a soulful spin on it that was almost indescribable in emotional depth that she deepened with masterful wailing on the standing bass.

I have seen Esperanza Spalding’s spirited performance before, most recently at the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival:  Tribute to Abbey Lincoln. It’s amazing to see this tiny young woman handle that big bass instrument and let loose with a voice that is almost pretty in its clarity. Esperanza Spalding has the ability to make you feel everything she is expressing vocally and instrumentally.

2017 Kennedy Center Spring Gala. Taj Mahal. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Host David Duchovny has done just about everything an artist can do in self-expression and creativity.  He’s not only a film and TV actor who’s won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV series but also a New York Times bestselling author, director, and international singer whose second album hits the market in fall of this year with a tour to follow.

Duchovny tried his best to keep the evening apolitical but couldn’t resist dropping a few bombs about “fake news” and Andrew Jackson historical flub-ups.  As host, however, his low-key, droll sense of humor added a cool comment to an otherwise slow-burn tempo, but warmly effusive evening of great music.  A 10-piece band and trio of backup singers accompanied with fine performances.

Memorable photos of John Lennon with videos highlighting themes on social justice and world peace added effective multi-media comment. And it was fun to watch the changing colors of great background graphics including those famous wired-framed owl spectacles John Lennon trademarked that glittered across the stage as a visual thematic brand for the evening.

“Revolution”, powerfully sung by Steven Van Zandt, epitomized the essence of John Lennon’s social conscience, and Jim James on “Jealous Guy” were toe-tapping sing-alongs.

Taj Mahal has been on the music scene for a veritable lifetime and performed “Sweet Little Sixteen” in true Chuck Berry, rock and roll, doo-wop style that rocked the house. Folk singer and guitarist Shawn Colvin on the beautiful “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” included a soft flute solo.

Rennie Harris’s Puremovement troupe of five limber young dancers infused youthful energy into the show with their frenetic, literally head-spinning hip hop street dance performance   to “Tomorrow Never Knows” sung by Esperanza Spalding

The iconic Judy Collins graced the stage to sing “In My Life” with beautifully strong vocals and a presence at 77 years of age that was legendary yet still contemporary. Collins is in fine form and it was a treasure to see and hear her perform. I only wished that she had sung this timeless classic in its entirety as it was the only song she performed.

2017 Kennedy Center Spring Gala. (L to R) Taj Mahal, Corinne Bailey Rae, Shawn Colvin, Amos Lee, and Jim James. Photo by Teresa Wood.

After soloing on “Help”, Amos Lee added a soulful edge to the magnificent “Imagine”,  performed as a duet with the effervescent Corinne Bailey Rae. John Lennon was a dreamer and his lyrics to Imagine” was really the climax of the evening with its transformative takeaway message:

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

 Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one.

In the finale, a shotgun cannon of confetti joyously filled the air of the Concert Hall of the Kennedy Center to “All You Need is Love” with all of the performers onstage singing in unison. The gala’s fun-filled after-party lingered to the wee hours with the artists, other celebrities, local dignitaries and arts lovers partying with a purpose to celebrate John Lennon and his unifying call to “Come Together”.

Running Time:  One hour and 50-minutes, with no intermission.

Come Together:  A Celebration of John Lennon played for one night only on May 8, 2017, at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall – 2700 F Street, in Washington, DC. For future tickets to Kennedy Center events, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

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5 Responses to Review: ‘Come Together:  A Celebration of John Lennon’ at The Kennedy Center

  1. Mal Barnes May 9, 2017 at 7:33 pm #

    The Gala was like a bumpy, uneven roller coaster and David Duchovny wasted at least 15 minutes of the audience’s precious time with his rambling monologues, bad jokes, and second rate singing. Thank GOD for Esperanza Spaulding, Taj Mahal and Rennie Harris and the Pure Movement team from Philly for saving an otherwise nostalgic evening of classic music.

    • Miss XF May 10, 2017 at 5:00 am #

      Second rate. I beg to differ.

      David was great.

    • Miss XF May 10, 2017 at 5:13 am #

      David was great.

  2. Araxy May 10, 2017 at 4:09 pm #

    I thought David Duchovny did an amazing job hosting. I didn’t even know he could sing or had an album. Is there anything he can’t do? Great event!

  3. Andrew May 26, 2017 at 11:10 pm #

    I was very disappointed in the come Together Tribute. David Duchovey was a goof, his singing was appalling. The music was so uneven it was very annoying. John Lennon would have not approved of this Hollywood Style Self Congratulatory shallow version of a Tribute. On a 1-10 my rating would have to be somewhere around a 3.