Sunday night will be a very special evening for music fans in our area as well as for two local musicians.
Jennings was as a songwriter and producer for hometown heroin Mary Chapin Carpenter, but he’s also worked with the Indigo Girls, George Jones, BeauSoleil and Lyle Lovett. Griffith is a nationally renowned Celtic singer who helped to launch the career of the late Eva Cassidy.
The two have something else in common, too. Both are battling debilitating diseases. Jennings has metastatic kidney cancer and Griffith is living with Parkinson’s.
“So Grace is in trouble and John is in trouble,” says Grammy-winning songwriter Bill Danoff, who also calls D.C. home and Jennings and Griffith his longtime friends.
Sitting on his back porch cradling his guitar, Danoff explains that when artists get sick, even if they have health insurance, it can be financially devastating.
“These guys get paid when they work and sing. If they don’t have a string of royalties coming in they’re in bad shape,” Danoff says.
“I’d be touring with Mary Chapin right now, I’d be producing, but being ill has put me on the DL,” Jennings says from his home in Montgomery County.
“I’m not sure when I’ll be take up my schedule again. It’s going to be a while.”
To help ease that financial burden, dozens of local musicians and bands will be performing at two separate yet competing benefit concerts Sunday night.
Everybody Loves Him, A Tribute and Benefit for John Jennings will be at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club and the Grace Griffith Tribute Concert and CD release will take place at The Birchmere in Alexandria.
Organizers of the two events didn’t realize they were being scheduled on the same night until it was too late to make a change.
Legendary DJ Cerphe says Sunday night will be a rare opportunity for D.C. music lovers, with so many great bands on the same stage. Even if the two concerts are a river apart.
“Usually that doesn’t happen. Great bands are out there and touring, but we get a chance to see a bunch of great musicians in one place. It’s going to be great a magical night,” Cerphe tells News 4.
The Jennings benefit includes the likes of Eddie From Ohio, The Mary Ann Redmond Band, the reunion of Bill Holland & The Rent’s Due Band and Jennings’ old band Big Yankee Dollar, to name a few.
The Griffith show includes Tom Paxton, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer.
Griffith will also perform at her show, though Jennings will not play at his.
Jennings still has trouble moving around after several surgeries but can, at least, play his guitar again.
“For a while it was just too painful to even hold my guitar,” he says.
As for Griffith, performing will be a challenge. It took her two years to record her new album. Because of her Parkinson’s, she had to record it one phrase at a time.
“Every record is a labor of love and in Grace’s case particularly so,” Jennings says. “Part of the beauty of the benefit for her is that she will do some singing, but when she can’t sing other people will take over.”