photos by John Patrick Gatta
After an exhausting yet exhilarating six hours of music and messages at the VetsAid 2022 benefit concert last Sunday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio that’s my all-encompassing reaction.
The sixth annual event created by legendary musician Joe Walsh in tribute to his father — a flight instructor who died while on active duty when Walsh was 20 months old — and all the veterans who need assistance after they returned from the battlefields succeeded on every level.
This year, Walsh focused on his home state’s musical legacy, offering a small taste of what’s sprouted from the Buckeye State. Besides a solo set from Walsh, who considers Columbus his childhood home and attended Kent State University, he joined Jimmy Fox and bassist Dale Peters for a James Gang reunion, which has Cleveland origins. Also on the bill were special guest Dave Grohl, who still has connections to Warren; Nine Inch Nails, which started in Cleveland; Black Keys, formed in Akron; and The Breeders, who grew up in Dayton. Each act played a killer-no-filler 45-minute set, with Walsh’s slightly shorter due to time limitations.
A video of John F. Kennedy’s Veterans Day Speech reminded the sold-out crowd that this wasn’t just a night of celebratory rock ‘n’ roll but it was also for a very serious cause.
At a pre-show press conference Walsh noted, “When I found myself in a position where I could in some way give back to our nation’s veterans how could I not? Seeing how rock ‘n’ roll is something I do best, it’s also the least I could do for those who served and continue to serve our country. So, we started VetsAid, bringing together the two things that saved my life over and over again – the friends I’ve made and the music we’ve played together.”
Due to Cleveland native Drew Carey testing positive for COVID, Joe Walsh’s stepson, Christian Quilici, handled the hosting duties. Despite expressing his nervousness at the last-minute job, he was fine introducing each act as well as military veterans who gave their personal accounts of post-war difficulties and service providers that helped them.
The Ohio State University Band made a surprise appearance, playing the Official Ohio Rock Song – “Hang On Sloopy” and the “Star Spangled Banner” before a video tribute to veterans related to members of the Breeders played on the screens. The quartet then quickly kicked into a set that spanned their career with an emphasis on the best-selling album “Last Splash” – opener “No Aloha, “Divine Hammer,” “Saints” “Invisible Man” and “Cannonball. Nods to fellow Ohio artists included a cover of Dayton-based Guided By Voices’ “Shocker in Gloomtown” and a cover of Youngstown’s Ed’s Redeeming Qualities’ “Drivin’ On 9,” which was written by Dom Leone.
Grohl appeared on guitar and vocals for the final number, a cover of Pixies’ “Gigantic.”
For a band that started 56 years ago, the James Gang still played with an intensity and precision through a set that included “Walk Away,” “Midnight Man,” and a Grohl appearance on drums for “Funk #49” to end the set.
As Walsh put it midway through the band’s latest, and possibly last, reunion. “If you’re young and you don’t know who we are, your parents really liked us.” The youth now had their own reasons to like the group.
The Black Keys put on a hits-filled set that opened with “Howlin’ For You,” included “Fever,” “Gold on the Ceiling,” “Wild Child” and concluded with “Lonely Boy.”
Coming off the group’s sold out Blossom Music Center tour closer last September, NIN performed with its usual combination of controlled chaos with loads of smoke and strobe lights, overpowering industrial rock, catchy material and a cumulative artistic catharsis during a set that began with early favorites “Wish” and “March of the Pigs,” and ended with the fierce “Head Like a Hole” followed by the dramatic soft landing of “Hurt.”
Relating the invite to play VetsAid, NIN’s Trent Reznor told the crowd, “You don’t understand what a big deal it is for Joe Walsh to be reaching out to me. The first concert I ever saw was him. I love that dude. So, I’m happy to be here.”
Acknowledging NIN during his set, Walsh said, “That was the first Nine Inch Nails concert I’ve ever been to. I liked it! It reminded me of being in the Northridge earthquake in California.” (He later added via Facebook: “My son told me that I wouldn’t know how much I needed NIN until I saw them for myself. He undersold them. An extraordinary artist, visionary and gentleman. Thank you Nine Inch Nails.”)
After a video of Walsh addressing a small group of former soldiers why putting on VetsAid is so important to him, he came onstage to play a solo set of his classics that started with “In the City” and “Turn to Stone,” which featured images of homeless military veterans.
Before he and his band performed “Life’s Been Good,” he jokingly commented, “If I knew I would have to play the next song for the rest of my life I would have written something different. Well, it’s too late now.”
Grohl guested on guitar for that number then switched to drums, along with the Breeders on vocals and Walsh’s godson, Roy Orbison III, for the night’s final number, “Rocky Mountain Way.”
Raising money and awareness for the needs of veterans and their families, VetsAid distributes funds to grassroots organizations in the communities where the concerts are held and beyond. In partnership with the Combined Arms Institute, more than $2 million in grants from the benefits and other fundraising efforts have been distributed.
Among the 2022 recipients are Paralyzed Veterans of America — Buckeye Chapter, Hire Heroes USA, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, the Resurrecting Lives Foundation, Back the Heroes Rumble.
To donate or for more information go to www.vetsaid.org