A perfect summer night—a downtown rooftop full of music lovers. A collection of some of Utah’s best musicians and singers, playing tunes from one of America’s best rock ‘n’ roll songwriters.
Put all those elements together, and you have a near-ideal evening of entertainment courtesy of Provo’s Rooftop Concert Series’ July show, Heartbreakers & American Girls: The Songs of Tom Petty, delivered by a band led by organizer Paul Jacobsen, on Friday night.
Many of the same players and singers delivered the Abbey Road show last year on the downtown parking garage roof in Provo, but this year they decided to loosen the reins and tackle an artist’s work rather than a particular album. That turned out to be a good call, especially considering the breadth of Tom Petty’s catalog. The man has written everything from barn-burning rockers to gentle acoustic strummers over the course of his 40-year career, and the band touched on virtually all facets of Petty’s sound over the course of nearly two hours.
The show started with some of the permanent fixtures in the band taking turns on lead vocals. Ryan Tanner opened the proceedings with a ramshackle take on “American Girl,” and the band tightened up considerably for the follow-up sung by Jacobsen, “The Waiting.” In fact, by show’s end, that performance early on, with the sun still high and bright, would prove to be one of the highlights of the evening.
After that, Jacobsen welcomed a series of singers to join the musicians on stage, each of them tackling a different tune from the Petty catalog. The Moth and The Flame’s Nat Pyfer tackled “You Don’t Know How It Feels” to great effect. The Devil Whale’s Brinton Jones showed up in full Mad Hatter attire, replicating Petty’s look from the “Don’t Come Around Here No More” video as the band impressively improved upon that song’s very-’80s production on Petty’s Southern Accents album.
On Friday, thanks to Jones’ vocal interpretation and the band’s rearrangement, the song was reborn in a wonderful way.
With the rotating cast of singers involved, it’s hard to pick out highlights from the night; there was nary a clunker in the bunch. Sarah Sample was an inspired choice to do “Wildflowers,” one of Petty’s best late-career tunes. Neon Trees’ Elaine Bradley and Tyler Glenn covered the Petty/Stevie Nicks duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” and it was a blast to see them trade verses. Debra Fotheringham’s “Room at the Top” was excellent, undoubtedly introducing one of Petty’s lesser-known songs to the couple thousand people on hand.
The Blue Aces’ Cristal Ramirez took on one of the older Petty songs, “Don’t Do Me Like That,” bringing just the right amount of attitude to the garage-rock tune. Dustin Christensen did a fine turn on “I Won’t Back Down” and Fictionist’s Stuart Maxfield led an energetic version of “Refugee.”
A set-closing “Running Down a Dream” and quick encore of “Free Fallin’” that brought all the participants on stage for a last hurrah finished up a night that was a reminder of just how strong Petty’s songs are, and how well they hold up. And it was yet another reminder of the considerable musical talent we have right here in Utah as well.