Ringo Starr. Lou Reed. Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. Green Day. Stevie Ray Vaughan. Bill Withers. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The "5" Royales. And those were just the acts being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Saturday night in Cleveland, not counting the many members of music royalty who made an appearance to both present and perform alongside their mentors and icons.
"it's like my record collection is sitting in this room," noted Green Day frontman Billy Joe Armstrong, looking across the mass of 10,000-plus gathered for the annual induction ceremony.
Although some may argue that it couldn't live up to the scope of last year's event, held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the 2015 version had every reason to be huge: This marked the 30th anniversary of inductions into the Hall of Fame, and the museum itself—also located in Cleveland—saw its 10 millionth visitor earlier this year. The city invested nearly $4 million into its Public Auditorium, which counts the induction ceremony as its biggest event, occurring every three years near the shore of Lake Erie.
The honorees themselves represented the usual mix of qualifications: the game-changers, the absurdly talented and the absurdly popular, sharing only the common quality of filling a role of historical relevance. Breaking down barriers served as the closest thing to a theme, as it has nearly every year the Hall has welcomed new members. Although Jett attempted to shrug off suggestions that she was a feminist icon—preferring to be a rocker in general versus a specifically female rocker—the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was praised for uniting black and white musicians under a common flag, while presenter Stevie Wonder summed up Withers' music as "for every single culture there is. Everyone in the world can relate to those songs."
Perhaps no one summed up that theme of racial unity more than Tom Morello, the guitarist for Rage Against The Machine, who appeared as part of the Butterfield homage: A child of mixed-races playing blues guitar solos in tribute to a band that featured the namesake white man who could impress Muddy Waters with his harmonica, playing alongside black blues standouts such as Billy Davenport on drums.
Attendees did not come to contemplate the ethnic tapestry of Western music and its impact on cultural diversity however. They came to watch the stars align and jam through a litany of classic singles.
The guitar, understandably, stood out.
Morello and Zac Brown traded solos through a cover of "Born in Chicago," perhaps shredding with more aggression than even the original Butterfield bunch might manage, but with a passion the honored band could appreciate. Although the remaining Butterfield members may have lost a few steps when it comes to foot-racing, the years haven't stolen an ounce of soul, based on their own performance of "Got My Mojo Workin'."
John Mayer, Gary Clark Jr., Doyle Bramhall II and Jimmy Vaughan paid fitting tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan—the lattermost's brother—as all four attempted to match the icon's fretwork on "Texas Flood" with their respective Stratocasters (Mayer, who presented for Vaughan and Double Trouble, repeatedly referred to the axeman as the "ultimate guitar hero").
Starr, the biggest name on the lineup, understandably got the most help as well during his closing set. A healthy group of guitarists and vocalists who had performed throughout the night came onstage again for a predictable rendition of "With A Little Help From My Friends," but the frets truly began sparking when Paul McCartney took the stage and led the aforementioned guitar army through "I Wanna Be Your Man."
That finale surprised many in the peanut gallery, who noticed that Jett and the Blackhearts hadn't performed the obvious "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" and presumed that she would return to lead the rest of the inductees in an anthemic edition of the classic single. At an event that celebrated her unpredictable career, Jett remained unpredictable, leaving the song untouched.
Other notable guest stars, albeit ones without guitars, included Miley Cyrus appearing alongside the Blackhearts for "Cherry Bomb" and "Crimson and Clover," while Wonder and John Legend shared keyboards and vocal parts during Withers' "Use Me" and "Stand By Me." Beck and members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs paid homage to Lou Reed with renditions of "Satellite of Love" and "Vicious," respectively.
The performances, unfortunately, took up far less time than the many minutes of needless biography offered by honorees, and some performers came up just short of thanking the kitchen sink. Butterfield's son—accepting on behalf of his deceased father—curiously thanked his own children. Withers and Starr, having waited until well after midnight to accept their trophies, ruthlessly jabbed at the offending parties during their own acceptances.
That said, poignant moments both humorous ("I'm going to start off this induction with the first time I wanted to have sex with Joan Jett," opened Cyrus) and touching ("I forgot that he was not only my friend-he was the friend of New York City," remarked Patti Smith while remembering Reed, taking several pauses when her eyes welled up) popped up throughout the night.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has rubbed many the wrong way over the years, either by way of exclusions from its halls or by not abbreviating the word "and." The attendance at ceremonies such as this year's—by both the musicians and fans—indicate it maintains a relevance to the music industry however, and the persistent significance of rock 'n' roll in pop culture will keep new classes of musicians rolling in for the 40th anniversary, 50th anniversary and beyond.
HBO will air the televised Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on May 30 at 8 PM.