Between fighting crime, reducing global warming, mending our socks and, you know, everything else Rocks Off does when we're away from the office, we caught a good bit of Friday evening's "Hope for Haiti" telethon. We didn't have much choice, because the George Clooney-organized, celebrity-packed fundraiser was on every single TV network not in the ESPN family, and we only care about college basketball once the NCAA tournament starts. (It makes a perfect diversion from that other March Madness, SXSW.)
The performances we saw did not include Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Hudson, the Bono/Edge/Jay-Z/Rihanna collab "Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour) or Wyclef Jean's "By the Waters of Babylon" finale, which had to go down easier than the former Fugee's story about carrying bodies through the rubble of Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.
The ones we did, we thought, ranged from excellent (Mary J. Blige's stirring Stephen Foster standard "Hard Times"; Christina Aguilera's exalted "Lift Me Up"; Sting's Afro-funky "Driven to Tears") to a little over-the-top (Stevie Wonder's "Bridge Over Troubled Water") to somewhere in the middle (Shakira's "I'll Stand By You"; Kid Rock, Keith Urban and Sheryl Crow on "Lean On Me").
The best, we thought, was Houston's own Beyonce, with Coldplay's Chris Martin on piano. Altering the lyrics of hit ballad "Halo" just enough to make them fit the context ("Haiti, we can see your halo"), she didn't miss a note and by the end had given Rocks Off a solid case of the goosebumps. We thought for sure the song would turn out to be the hit of the telethon, but Monday morning it was only the No. 8 most-downloaded "Hope for Haiti" track on iTunes (all proceeds from any H4H track go to hopeforhaiti.org). Tops is yet another cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," sung by Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris, with Austin native, ex-Bob Dylan sideman, sometime Arc Angel and "Beat's So Lonely" boy Charlie Sexton on guitar.
While we're on the subject, here's some more stuff related to both Houston and Haiti:
Comedians, poets and musicians will all converge on the Red Cat Jazz Cafe (924 Congress) this evening for the "Artist United for Haiti" benefit hosted by Se7en and featuring special guest Houston City Councilman Jarvis Johnson. Performers include BET crackups Rodney "Lil' Bro" Yarborough and Keisha Hunt; local hip-hopper Juzcoz; soul brothers and sisters Tony Henry, Marium Akilah and Joe Lee McCoy; spoken-word slammers Empress Winter, Black Snow and Fertile Spirit; and DJ Regg. Proceeds go to the Haitian Multi-Cultural Association of Houston.
Kyra Moons, formerly half of Houston reggae duo the Neutral Sisters until her sister Bianca passed away from diabetic complications in late 2008, has been making the local TV rounds performing "Hold On Haiti," a remix of the Sisters' "Hold On" featuring Mr. Blacc Sheep and dedicated to the earthquake victims. Noons will be a guest on (currently pledge-seeking) KPFT's Connect the Dots program at 3 p.m. Wednesday.