Musicians turn heartbreak into Tom Petty tribute with sold-out Ironwood shows

Timely. Necessary. But by no means opportunistic. Merely part of the grieving process, part of wanting to make sure someone gets the respect they’ve long deserved.

In fact, as Calgary musician Randy Hutchings explains, a local Tom Petty tribute concert has been years in the making, always a discussion, prior to the American rock icon’s sudden death Oct. 2.

“About three years ago, Ross Watson approached me and said, ‘We should do a Tom Petty tribute,’ ” explains Hutchings of the fellow scene vet, while sitting in the Ironwood.

“And two years ago, Ross Watson approached me and said, ‘We should do a Tom Petty tribute.’ And the day after he died … Ross called me up and he goes, ‘I guess it’s time we should do that Tom Petty tribute.’ ”

So Hutchings dialled up Ironwood owner and longtime live, local music champion Pat MacIntyre to ask if he had any openings, well aware that the Inglewood venue was already solidly booked into the new year. But. Hope.

Call it kismet, call it fate, call it the rock gods looking out for one of their own, but a last-minute cancellation opened up this Thursday, Nov. 2 at the club.

Two days after Hutchings had banged out a poster on his phone and posted it on Facebook, the show had already sold out. MacIntyre, sensing how important the tribute was to a lot of music lovers, decided that he could free up the Wednesday evening which is normally an open mic night.

Two days later, that was also sold out.

In fact, as Hutchings relates, he was in the Ironwood just after the Nov. 1 night went clean and, with the phone ringing off the hook, MacIntyre picked it up and handed it to him — it was someone desperate for tickets. Followed by more. Followed by … well, you get the picture.

“We could easily do another day, but we’re not going to,” he says. “We’re just going to keep it at two days.”

“That’s actually the Ironwood motto,” MacIntyre pipes in. “We could, but we’re not gonna.”

So, it will be a special couple of nights for those fans lucky enough to get themselves in the door.

MacIntyre admits that with the over 430 shows a year they’ve booked into the room for the past decade plus, these are perhaps the most anticipated.

“I knew there’d be an outpouring of affection,” he says, still surprised by how much. “This is one of the fastest sellouts we’ve had.”

As to why that is, the club owner thinks it’s simple. Tom Petty, his albums, his songs, his Everyman rock persona resonate with so many, cross so many taste and age barriers that it’s almost impossible to find someone he hasn’t touched.

“It’s a theme song of a lot of people’s lives,” he says. “They can sing along to every song … There’s not a lot of concerts you can go to where everyone is singing every word to every song.”

Hutchings agrees. “I think Tom Petty probably crosses more generations than most artists. We do the Bob Dylan (tribute) here, we do the (Bruce) Springsteen thing here, we’ve done The Band here — lots of people know some of the songs, but not everybody knows all of the songs. Tom Petty, I still think, he’s one of those artists that everybody knows, but he still seems to fly under the radar, where most people don’t even realize they know all of his songs.”

Hutchings, who cites Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes as his go-to album, has spent the past few weeks assembling and rehearsing with an incredible band of local talent, which includes Garth Kennedy on keys, Watson on drums, Curtis Cripps on bass, and Hutchings, Conrad Walz and Russ Brent on guitar and vocals, with a handful of special guests showing up throughout the evenings including members of the Northern Beauties and Sheri Young.

The group has worked up two sets with 23 Petty and Traveling Wilburys’ faves in total, making sure to factor in the inevitable audience participation on the singalong side of things — oh, you can bet the chorus for Free Fallin’ will be sung loud and proud.

Adding to the evening is the fact that the local chapter of the Heart and Stroke Foundation will have a booth set up to take donations and provide information — Petty died of cardiac arrest — with a couple of raffles taking place, money raised also going to the organization.

And for those unable to secure a seat for either of the special shows, well, MacIntyre is adding a Petty concert to the annual celebrations the Ironwood hosts, including those aforementioned tributes to the Boss and His Bobness, which takes place on their respective birthdays.

“You have to be a very special individual for us to put something like this together and to care about it enough,” MacIntyre says, noting that Petty passed away less than three weeks shy of his 67th. “So next year we’ll do it on his birthday.”

“It’s already booked in the calendar for next year,” Hutchings says.

The Tom Petty Tribute takes place Wednesday, Nov. 1 and Thursday, Nov. 2 at the Ironwood Stage and Grill. Both shows are sold out. But there’s always next year.




(Photo courtesy Sam Jones.)