Nancy Wilson, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Steven Adler, Gilby Clarke, Bill Burr, Rudy Sarzo, Richie Kotzen, Graig Gass, Jerry Cantrell, Jim Florentine, Blake Boyd, Carlisle Forrester, Robert Sarzo and Debra Wilson, what do all these people have in common? They were all in attendance for the fifth annual Rock Against MS, benefit show, at its new and permanent digs in the fabled Los Angeles Theater on March 25th. But, if you think that is the complete list of musicians and artists on hand to support the cause, you would be sorely mistaken. The list of performers on hand to play for the eager crowd is a veritable who’s who of the rock n’ roll world. Each of them selflessly performing for a good cause.
Rock Against M.S. Foundation is a non-profit organization which, according to their Facebook page: “will provide services from a three (3) grant resource system, which will provide daily care, quality of life needs and emergency funding, while assisting people with multiple sclerosis (MS) to live independent and full lives. Additionally, a brick and mortar facility we will call THE ROCK HOUSE is in the planning stages, and will provide free of charge, multiple programs and opportunities designed to heal the mind, body and spirit of all those whose lives have been affected by MS.”
After an “orange carpet” (orange is the color of the MS awareness ribbon) entry by many of the performers and celebrity attendees, the event moves into the auditorium of the Los Angeles Theater. The evening is emcee’d by comedians Bill Burr, Craig Gass and from That Metal Show, Jim Florentine. The funny men entertain the audience and introduce each act, while trading barbs and stories, and telling a few jokes. The first grouping of musicians is basically Foreigner, sans Mick Jones and Kelly Hansen. Jeff Pilson, Bruce Watson, Chris Frazier and Michael Bluestein pay homage to four artists lost in 2016. They start with Karn Evil 9 in tribute to Keith Emerson and Greg Lake. They are then joined by Gretchen Bonaduce and Lisa D. Foreman for Suffragette City, honoring David Bowie. Doug Pinnick (King’s X) and Joe Retta (Sweet, Dio Disciples) join to share vocal duties for Shining Star in memory of Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire. Ryan Waters and Liv Warfield of Roadcase Royale are then added for Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy, with Warfield on vocals to round out the tributes.
The audience is treated to several ensembles of players including one composed of Howie Simon, Scotti Hill (Skid Row), Marty O’Brien(Lita Ford), Shawn Duncan (Odin) and Retta. Queen tribute band Queen Nation delights the crowd with a short set of Queen classics. Rudy and Robert Sarzo lead the next all-star band, joined by Michael Devin and Joel Hoekstra both of Whitesnake as well as drummer Anthony “Tiny” Biuso. This combination’s set is highlighted by their dead-on rendition of Whitesnake’s Slow an’ Easy. The next all-star lineup sees Matt Starr (Ace Frehley, Mr. Big), Watson, Ace Von Johnson (Faster Pussycat), Phil Buckman (Filter) and Rodger Carter (John 5) revving up the crowd.
The next group to hit the stage is the Richie Kotzen band. The trio bust through two songs with Kotzen strumming and flicking his guitar. For the final number of the set, Kotzen is joined by his Winery Dogs band mate, Billy Sheehan on bass. In a break from the breakneck set pace, Rock Against MS presents an honorary award to Jennifer Lee Pryor, wife of the late Richard Pryor. Pryor himself suffered from MS and through humor, brought awareness to the disease.
A set from Gilby Clarke (Guns ‘N’ Roses) and his band is next. Clarke, who also was presented an award from the organization for his continued participation in Rock Against MS, segues into Steven Adler and friends. Adler and Clarke are joined by Pilson for a a rocking version of The Ramones’ I Wanna be Sedated. Clarke exits, Robert Sarzo and Hoekstra enter joined by Patrick Stone (Adler’s Appetite) on vocals. They play two Guns tunes, with a finale of Rocket Queen. The last all-star jam of the night is a gem. Jerry Cantrell and Mike Inez of Alice In Chains join forces with Ben Smith (Heart, Roadcase Royale) and of course Nancy Wilson. They thrill the crowd with two AIC tunes, No Excuses and Got Me Wrong.
The headline act of the evening is Nancy Wilson’s new project, Roadcase Royale. The Rock Against MS show is Royale’s live debut. Liv Warfield, formerly of Prince’s
New Power Generation, handles the main vocal duties and her soulful voice suits the style of music that the band has created. The music is an eclectic mix of folk and soul, with a bit of a funk edge. Lead guitarist Ryan Waters plays with a little bit of a Prince attitude and sound. The band is rounded out by Heart alumni Ben Smith on drums, Chris Joyner on keyboards and Dan Rothchild on bass, who wins the award for the most interesting wardrobe of the evening, a dapper black, white and red striped suit. Roadcase Royale get a bit of an expanded set, 30 minutes. Their set consists of a few new band creations, as well as The Dragon, which Wilson says was inspired by Alice in Chains frontman, Layne Staley. Of course, Wilson would not be able to exit the stage without appeasing the audience with a few Heart numbers. They fulfill that by turning in a less poppy version of These Dreams. The finale, Crazy On You, is led in with Wilson strumming and picking out the signature acoustic guitar intro, much to the delight of the crowd.
The evening is capped off with a whole slew of the performers crowding the stage in a rendition of AC/DC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll), with an actual bagpiper, John Mclean Allan. With that the evening has concluded and the Rock Against MS 5 is in the books. Time to look forward to next year’s installment and the treats in store for those who want to see a great rock n’ roll show and support a great cause.
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