LOS ANGELES Punk poet Patti Smith and folky funk-rocker Beck helped Sweet Relief reach its goal of raising $400,000 this year by headlining the charity's second annual fund-raiser Tuesday.
It was payback time for Smith. She told the crowd of about 300 how Sweet Relief, which assists artists with their medical and personal needs, aided her through "the most difficult time of my life.
"I was a needy musician, and I wasn't really certain where to turn," Smith said. "I called Rosemary [Carroll, who, along with Jill Berliner was honored Tuesday night as founding members of Sweet Relief,] asking for assistance, and she restored my dignity. I was in need, and now I'm strong."
Smith, who rebounded two years later with the album Gone Again (1996), proved her rediscovered strength with a passionate five-song set. Accompanied by guitarist Oliver Ray, she included covers of Velvet Underground's "Heroin" and Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box." She finished with a rousing finale that easily could be appropriated as a volunteer anthem, "People Have the Power" (RealAudio excerpt), from 1988's Dream of Life, recorded with her late husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith.
If anyone was wavering on whether to make a donation, Smith's vocal exhortation that "we can turn the Earth's revolution" couldn't help but make a difference. Sweet Relief development director Noa Jones said on Wednesday (June 21) that the fund-raiser netted $250,000. "We met our goal last night, that's for sure," Jones said.
Smith's dedication was evident in her wardrobe. "Only for Rosemary would I wear this," Smith said of her gray frock. "I think the last time I wore a dress was at [civil rights attorney] William Kunstler's memorial service."
Beck, meanwhile, whirled through a mellow, 30-minute-plus performance, doing his best to overcome the din of the crowd. In an attempt to get their full attention, Beck took to the woods, literally (the fund-raiser was held on the lawn of a tony West Hollywood hotel) with "One Foot in the Grave," from Stereopathetic Soulmanure (1994).
"It's not often I get to jam out in the trees," said Beck, vivid in a purple-sequined pantsuit. His eight-song set was highlighted by back-to-back singles from Mutations (1998), "Sing It Again" and "Nobody's Fault but My Own" (RealAudio excerpt).
A glance at the list of people helped by Sweet Relief shows little boundaries as to who receives assistance, from the famous (Smith) to the anonymous (such as the 65-year-old Las Vegas lounge singer who received a $1,500 grant for hospitalization for respiratory failure).
Folk singer Victoria Williams, who started the organization after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993, said, "In my travels I have met many people who told me how grateful they were for Sweet Relief because they or someone they knew were saved from a tragic circumstance be it an accident, or a disease, or even recovery from a self-destructive lifestyle."