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Paul Mann: Chris Hillman Mixes Old with New in Benefit Concert at Lobero

Chris Hillman (center), joined by longtime collaborators Herb Pedersen and John Jorgenson, performs last Friday at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, with proceeds benefiting victims of the recent Thomas Fire and mudslides. Click to view larger
Chris Hillman (center), joined by longtime collaborators Herb Pedersen and John Jorgenson, performs last Friday at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, with proceeds benefiting victims of the recent Thomas Fire and mudslides. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

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Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Chris Hillman brought his latest tour to a sold-out audience at the historic Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara last Friday.

The current tour is in support of his highly praised new album, Bidin’ My Time, produced by the late Tom Petty. Hillman fronted an acoustic foursome featuring two of his longtime collaborators, Herb Pedersen and John Jorgenson, both of whom appear on the new album.

I first saw the iconic Hillman perform a solo concert at the Roxy Theatre in 1975, the first concert I ever attended in California. Even then, as a young music fan, I knew of Hillman's contribution to the pop music world as a founding member of The Byrds.

But the master songwriter, singer and musician had a groundbreaking career long before the folk-rock days of The Byrds. He began his professional music career at age 15, in 1960, playing in a series of successful country and bluegrass bands, while mastering the mandolin. Along with another music legend, Alan Parsons brought some of the earliest country-rock crossover tunes into The Byrds' musical catalog. After The Byrds, Hillman contributed to several successful crossover bands, including The Flying Burrito Brothers, Stephen Stills and the Desert Rose Band.

During a brilliant performance at the Lobero Theatre, the foursome played a 22-song list culled from all of these great bands, the group's new album and more. Before Hillman introduced his band at the beginning of the show, he reiterated that the show had become a benefit concert with all proceeds donated to charities in support of the recent Thomas Fire and mudslide victims.

Hillman has long been a nearby Ventura resident. The city was hit hardest early on by the Thomas Fire. With tears in his eyes, he explained how the fire consumed part of his garage, but because of the heroic actions of firefighters, his home was saved. He personally thanked Ventura County firefighter Lance Austin, who was assigned to his residence during the fire and helped protect his home.

Then the group launched into the extension set list. Hillman played guitar at the beginning of the evening before switching to his beloved mandolin for most of the night. Jorgenson was the most musical member of the group, switching among various string instruments and keyboards. During an especially inspiring version of The Byrds classic hit "Eight Miles High," Jorgenson led the group into jam band territory with an aspiring guitar solo. Pedersen, meanwhile, wowed the crowd with some of his tunes, going back to his involvement in the early 1960s bluegrass band The Dillards and including songs from the Desert Rose Band.

The most exciting moment came early in the set when Santa Barbara County resident David Crosby made a surprise appearance onstage to lend his harmonies to an inspiring rendition of The Byrds classic "Turn, Turn, Turn." The tune brought the entire audience to their feet for an extended ovation.

Hillman introduced some of the exciting new tunes from the latest album, with anecdotal stories of working with Petty in his studio. The fact that the record was one of Petty’s last projects before his untimely passing made the album all the more special.

The evening was a brilliant walk through pop music history, including innovative crossover tunes mixing early bluegrass, country, folk and rock music to form the roots of the Americana music that we hear today. Hillman genuinely can be called a living legend of American pop music, albeit a reluctantly humble one.

Hillman/Pedersen/Jorgenson set list

» 1. Bells of Rhymney

» 2. Bidin' My Time

» 3. Love Reunited

» 4. Given All I Can See

» 5. Turn, Turn, Turn

» 6. Win Your Love

» 7. Walk Right Back

» 8. Sin City/Wheels

» 9. She Don't Care About Time

» 10. Eight Miles High

» 11. Set You Free

» 12. When I Get a Little Money

» 13. Hymns Out of Tune

» 14. Different Rivers

» 15. Wildflower

» 16. Restless

» 17. Hey Boys

» 18. Together Again

» 19. Such Is the World

» 20. Wait a Minute

» 21. Here She Comes Again

» 22. Rank Stranger

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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