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Christmas Jubilee is a family affair for Patti Smith, Detroit music scene
Coming back to Detroit isn't necessarily the easiest thing for Patti Smith.
The multi-faceted artist -- a singer, songwriter, musician, poet, author, photographer -- and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer lived in the metro area, mostly St. Clair Shores, for more than 16 years with her husband, the late MC5 guitarist Fred Smith, and their two children. But Fred Smith's death in 1994 still affects her deeply.
"It's just pure pain...not a bad thing," Smith explains.
But the call of family, holiday and a good cause is more than enough to bring her back this weekend.
Smith -- who was in town during June to launch her "Patti Smith: Camera Solo" exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts and to play a few shows -- is the headliner of the Christmas Jubilee, a concert at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Detroit's Masonic Temple that will benefit Gleaners Food Bank. Organized by Smith's son Jackson, an active musician in Detroit, the show will feature more than two dozen artists playing a variety of original and classic Christmas material and other songs.
"Jackson is a full-blooded Detroiter," his mother says. "He loves the city. (Service and community) was so important to Fred, so it's wonderful to see (Jackson) put so much energy into something like this. I know Fred would be very proud of him."
Jackson Smith says the Jubilee was inspired by Tony Shanahan, the bass player in the Patti Smith Group, who for many years has organized a similar kind of benefit in New Brunswick, N.J. "I always wanted to do something like that here," explains Smith, 30, who plays with Amy Gore & Her Valentines and the Orbitsuns, among other bands. "I know people have done Christmas shows before, and they're all great. I just wanted to do something with a house band and take some featured artists out of their comfort zone and, really, just get some friends and family together and have a good time."
The lineup for the Christmas Jubilee is diverse but, Jackson Smith notes, all the players are somewhat interconnected and have worked together over the years. He's helming the house band, which will also include fellow guitarist Dylan Dunbar, keyboardist Chris Codish and bassist James Simonson from the Brothers Groove, and first-call Detroit drummer Todd Glass. They'll back a variety of artists including his younger sister Jesse Smith, Ty Stone, Don "Doop" Duprie, Jody Raffoul, Jennifer Westwood, Nicole Atkins and Seduce's David Black.
The bands the Thornbills, the Curmudgeons, the Waycross Georgia Farmboys and other members of Sponge are also on the bill, while Chef Chris will deliver a stylized telling of "The Night Before Christmas" and Sponge/Crud frontman Vinnie Dombroski is planning a rocked-up version of "What Child is This?" with Seduce's David Black. Louis Resto and his brother, Mario, will perform a new holiday song called "I Wonder If Anybody Knows."
"Some people are playing some original tunes, and there will be some original arrangements of Christmas tunes and holiday favorites," notes Jackson Smith, who expects the show to run between three and four hours, with intermission. "It's truly just a gathering of friends and fellow musicians from the scene getting together under one roof, just having a good time."
Patti Smith, meanwhile, says that "I have my orders from Jackson about what I'm gonna do," including "lots of Christmas songs" as well as a couple of her best-known songs. " 'People Have the Power' will resonate because that was written in (Detroit) for (Fred Smith)," she notes. "It's always moving to be downtown to see where Fred and I lived in the Book Cadillac Hotel, the church (Mariner's) where we were married...
"We'll go visit the cemetery and say hello, and to play at the Masonic is great. Fred used to say it was HIS hall because he was Fred 'Sonic' Smith. So that resonates, too. I've gotten to know a lot of (Jackson's) friends and the musicians who are playing; they're all so talented, and they become very selfless when they're working on a communal project like this." Smith, 65 -- who recorded a new version of the standard "I Ain't Got Nobody" for the season finale of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" -- is gearing up for a busy 2013 that will see her continuing to tour in support of her latest album, "Banga." She's also planning more museum exhibitions and will work on another memoir to follow-up her award-winning 2010 tome "Just Kids."
Jackson Smith, meanwhile, is hoping to turn the Christmas Jubilee into an annual event on Detroit's December calendar.
"We'll see how we do and see how people feel afterward," he says. "As long as it's fun and people are happy and we raise some money for that charity, that's what it's really about. Hopefully we can do it every year."
Christmas Jubilee 2012 takes place at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16, at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Masonic Temple, 500 Temple Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $25-$100. Call 313-355-2830 or visit www.themasonicofdetroit.com.
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