Over the past couple years, the Grammys have honored late music legends with splashy spectacles, like Lady Gaga’s divisive, over-the-top David Bowie medley and Bruno Mars’s proudly purple Prince homage. But when the 60th Annual Grammy Awards paid tribute to last year’s MusiCares honoree, Tom Petty, who died in October 2017, they kept things sweet and simple — with Emmylou Harris and newly crowned Best Country Album winner Chris Stapleton seated on stools, Unplugged-style, strumming and crooning Petty’s folksy 1994 solo hit “Wildflowers.”
While some Petty fans may have wanted a more lavish production featuring the Heartbreakers, the two surviving Traveling Wilburys, Stevie Nicks, and other Petty peers, this stripped-down approach was actually fitting for the down-to-earth Petty, who surely would have appreciated this tasteful and heartfelt tribute.
“As we honor and remember those we lost in our music community this past year, there is no more appropriate way to begin than with this beautiful song by one of rock’s most beloved artists,” declared Recording Academy President Neil Portnow in his introduction. Surprisingly, almost all the other major deaths of the past year — including Gregg Allman, Glen Campbell, Chris Cornell, and Chester Bennington — didn’t receive standalone tributes, and were instead shoehorned into the lengthy In Memoriam reel that followed Stapleton and Harris’s performance.
There was one other special tribute at Sunday’s Grammys, which also benefited from a less-is-more aesthetic — as well as from a more joyful and vivacious vibe than witnessed during most solemn Grammy memorials. In a salute to rock ‘n’ roll architects Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste and new-school blues-rocker Gary Clark Jr. jammed on rollicking, if all too brief, versions of “Ain’t That a Shame” and “Maybelline” that had just about everyone at Madison Square Garden hail-hailing rock ‘n’ roll.
The 60th Annual Grammy Awards took place Sunday night in New York City.