The Austin Chronicle

(Tom) Petty Fest

By Chase Hoffberger, September 26, 2013, 2:57pm, Earache!

Austin loves a good hoot night. For decades now, in fact. Name your favorite music icon – David Bowie, Tom Waits, PJ Harvey – and odds are they’ve prompted a gathering of local (and maybe national) acts at a local club to pay tribute with deep-catalog covers.

Petty Fest, which shook a sold-out Mohawk last night, proved different.

Whereas last August’s double-barrel Bob Dylan and Bob Marley tribute brought out local luminaries including Graham Wilkinson, Akina Adderley, Kalu James, and Slowtrain, then March’s replay of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen gathered Nakia, Daniel James, some Band of Heathens, and T Bird & the Breaks, promotion for last night’s celebration of Tom Petty brought out big-gun touring acts Jason Isbell, Jakob Dylan, the Whigs, and Norah Jones.

The presence of those four proved only a thin slice of wonder that ended up being Petty Fest, a two-hour “Breakdown” of the Florida legend’s almost 40-year-old catalog. The 27-song set, backed by the Cabin Down Below, an NYC cover act named for the Petty song off 1994’s Wildflowers, navigated some of gator’s best known material. Jones covered “Time to Move On” and played Stevie Nicks to Dylan’s Petty on a fiery “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” while Isbell teamed with bandmate, wife, and Lubbock native Amanda Shires on “I Won’t Back Down” and “You Got Lucky.”

Later in the show, the former Drive-by Trucker came back to lead “American Girl,” but the set-list also featured deep cuts like “Southern Accents” (performed by Nashville’s Cory Chisel), the Traveling Wilbury’s “Last Night” (local Brother Nolan Wheeler), and “This Old Town” (Jones), off 2006’s Highway Companion.

Names lower on the marquee ended up leaving as much of an impression as the ones on top. Adriel Denae held her own alongside Jones on “Wildflowers,” Butch Walker got high energy on “Even the Losers” and “The Waiting,” and Nashville fireball Ruby Amanfu lit up local guitar hero Charlie Sexton on a rousing rendition of “Honey Bee.” She returned to duet with Willie Nelson’s kid Lukas on “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and played the role of Last Waltz-era Mavis Staples on all-for-one closer “Free Fallin’.”

Perhaps most impressive was the way Austin’s own held its own. Whiskey Sisters stormed “You Wreck Me,” Ian McLagan whooped up the Wilburys’ “Handle with Care,” and Heartless Bastards howler Erika Wennerstrom, who told the crowd she got her band name from the trivia question, “What is the name of Tom Petty’s backing band?,” had so much fun playing “Yer So Bad” and “I Need to Know” that the show then needed Jessica Lea Mayfield’s seductive crawl through “Breakdown” just to gather its legs.

Sexton, arriving without fanfare or announcement, ripped through “Don’t Do Me Like That” and got together with Arc Angels bandmate Doyle Bramhall II (who’d shown up one song earlier to play “You Don’t Know How It Feels”) for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” With the son of his on-again/off-again boss, Sexton also joined Jakob Dylan on Southern Accents standout “Rebels.”

As the audience learned at the beginning of Nolan Wheeler’s appearance, each performer got to pick their own track. Thus, in a perfect world, this long list of esteemed singer-songwriters might have selected tracks that weren’t culled so quickly from Petty’s greatest hits. What about “Walls (Circus),” maybe? Or “Built to Last” and “The Apartment Song”?

Then again, griping about song selection here is grasping at straws. Rarely will you get the chance to see multi-platinum artists like Norah Jones step inside an intimate venue and take cues from a no-name bassist who’s made his living covering Tom Petty songs in the city that never sleeps. Rarely will you get to see people like Butch Walker exhibit so much joy performing a song they didn’t write. Rarely will you see a girl like Ruby Amanfu, who danced like Tina Turner on a Seventies Rolling Stones stage, make Jason Isbell an afterthought.

The songs were just a vehicle. Last night, anybody who channeled Tom Petty steered the ship.

Petty Fest set-list, Mohawk, 9.25.13

“Cabin Down Below,” Cabin Down Below Band

“Even the Losers,” Butch Walker

“It’s Good to Be King,” Danny Masterson/Josh Lattanzi

“I Won’t Back Down,” Amanda Shires

“You Got Lucky,” Jason Isbell

“Don’t Do Me Like That,” Charlie Sexton

“Yer So Bad,” Erika Wennerstrom

“I Need to Know,” Erika Wennerstrom

“Breakdown,” Jessica Lea Mayfield

“Last Night,” Nolan Wheeler

“Honey Bee,” Ruby Amanfu/Charlie Sexton

“You Don’t Know How It Feels,” Doyle Bramhall II

“Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Doyle Bramhall II/Charlie Sexton

“Wildflowers,” Adriel Denea

“You Wreck Me,” Whiskey Sisters

“Southern Accents,” Cory Chisel

“Listen to Her Heart,” Cory Chisel

“Runnin’ Down a Dream,” the Whigs

“Time to Move On,” Norah Jones

“This Old Town,” Norah Jones

“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” Jakob Dylan/Norah Jones

“Rebels,” Jakob Dylan

“Refugee,” Lukas Nelson

“Don’t Come Around Here No More,” Lukas Nelson/Ruby Amanfu

“The Waiting,” Butch Walker

“Handle with Care,” Ian McLagan

“American Girl,” Jason Isbell

“Free Fallin’,” all

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