Tom Petty’s death is hittin’ hard. We’ve lost so many musicians and heroes over the last two years, but it seemed Tom would always be here for us. He’d say he was done touring, but then he’d round up the boys and go out on the road again. And we’d be happy.
I loved Tom Petty shows. Whether at The Vic during his five night residency of XRT Shows called “Petty Mania” in 2003, or his XRT Budget Show with Elvis Costello at the Riv in 1977 or his myriad arena and outdoor amphitheater concerts, or his final date at Wrigley Field this summer, Petty and Heartbreakers always delivered. You couldn’t believe how many songs you knew and loved and you’d find yourself singing along to almost all of them. That sing-a-long on “Breakdown” from Pack Up The Plantation? That’s real! If you weren’t singing, you’d wouldn’t have to be Lin Brehmer to grab the air guitar during Tom and Mike Campbell’s dueling leads.
Some of my best Petty memories happened at Bonnaroo. In 2013 I remember standing in the field next to six guys wearing matching white t-shirts, each one with a different word that spelled out Oh-My-My-Oh-Hell-Yes. For the entire show, they stayed in their places. Finally when the band broke into “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, well, they along with everyone else celebrated the meaning of the song. It was Bonnaroo after all.
Tom also played on the farm in 2006, the first year I was there to cover the festival for XRT. I was able to score a prime vantage point. We were led high above the main stage to the side catwalk. What a view! The giant field blanketed with an audience 90,000 people strong. When Tom and the band ambled onto to the stage, that crowd erupted like nothing I’d ever witnessed. Then Tom addressed the Bonoroovians by saying, “Do you wanna jam?” The response was affirmative. It was cool he knew where he was and who he was playing to.
But the biggest response was for the evening’s surprise guest, Stevie Nicks. Tom called her to the stage to perform their classic duet, “Stop Draggin My Heart Around”. I was able to find that performance and you can watch it below.
But there’s one more image. After the set, I could see the area behind the backdrop where the band was milling about after the performance. There was Tom, his wife and Stevie. He put his arms around both and all three walked off together, exiting into the night and right into my memory bank. I’ll never forget that. Rest well, Tom.