What started with the donation of a single guitar several years ago has
snowballed into what will likely be one of the most anticipated benefit
concerts of 1998 -- and an event that will reunite Pearl Jam frontman Eddie
Vedder with the family of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the legendary
Pakistani singer who died last summer.
The event, "Not In Our Name: Dead Man Walking, the Concert," is an anti-death-penalty fund-raiser slated for March 29 at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium. In addition to bringing together Vedder and Rahat -- the nephew of the late Fateh Ali Khan, who collaborated with the PJ singer on songs for the "Dead Man Walking" film -- the show will feature performances by Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Michelle Shocked, Tom Waits, Ani DiFranco, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament and David Robbins.
"This project came about when Bonnie Raitt donated a guitar to Murder
Victims' Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) in 1992. We thought, why don't we take this guitar and have the artists from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack sign it?" said Mariah MacNeil, an associate producer for the event, speaking about plans to auction off in early April the instrument signed by artists including Peter Gabriel, U2's the Edge, Ani DiFranco, Tom Waits and Vedder, among others. "Then everybody got so behind the idea that we thought, why don't we have a benefit concert with the artists from the soundtrack?"
"Dead Man Walking" -- the 1994 film starring Susan Sarandon as a nun
counseling a convicted murderer, played by Sean Penn -- was released with an
all-star album of companion music that featured many of the performers from
the upcoming concert as well as folk-rocker Bruce Springsteen, punk-poet Patti Smith and country legend Johnny Cash. Among the most well-received cuts on the album were "The Long Road" and "The Face of Love" (RealAudio excerpt), which were recorded by Vedder and Fateh Ali Khan.
When Fateh Ali Khan died last August, he left behind a family steeped in
the traditions of Pakistani music, and concert organizers began to discuss
the possibility of having his nephew Rahat perform with Vedder as a tribute
to his famous uncle. Then, when it appeared to be too expensive to bring
the performer over, Vedder stepped in to assure his presence at the concert, along with that of tabla player Dildar Hussain.
"Eddie volunteered to bring him here," said Mike Penzato, another associate
producer for the event, proceeds of which will benefit MVFR and Hope House, both of which also received money from the
sale of the Dead Man Walking soundtrack. "[Vedder] said, 'I would really like to do my songs from the soundtrack, and I want to do them right.' "
Organizers are doing everything possible to make that happen, said Pearl Jam
publicist Annie Ohayon, who added that Vedder has a vested interest in making this work. "He was on the soundtrack, and he worked with [director] Tim [Robbins] on it. He's interested in where the money goes," Ohayon said.
MVFR is an organization made up of murder victims' family members who are opposed to the death penalty, MacNeil said, adding that most of these people seek reconciliation in coming to terms with the tragedy, in addition to seeking alternatives to the death penalty, better answers to the crime problem and victims' rights. Hope House is the Louisiana-based social service organization run by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, of which Sister Helen Prejean is a member. Prejean, who was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, wrote the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book "Dead Man Walking" about her experiences as a spiritual advisor to convicted murderer Patrick Sonnier.
While "Not In Our Name: Dead Man Walking, the Concert" is a fund-raising
event, MacNeil said its purpose is also educational, especially in light of
the death sentence handed to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the recent execution of Texas pickax murderer Karla Faye Tucker, the first death penalty carried out on a woman in the U.S. since 1984.
"The death penalty is so prevalent in the American psyche right now,"
MacNeil said. "MVFR's perspective is that the victims' families don't
often get heard. Education about the death penalty, and the myths and
facts that are behind it, needs to be brought out and people need to be
able to discuss it."
Tickets for "Not In Our Name" go on sale at the end of February and range
in price from $30 to $100. In addition, $300 VIP tickets, which include an invitation to a performers' reception after the concert, also will be available. [Thurs., Feb. 12, 1998, 6 p.m. PST]