Rising from the ashes

Nate Smith and Skip Culton survived the Camp Fire but lost their homes. On Sunday, before a Golden 1 Center crowd of 3,000 people, they sung about Paradise, the Butte County town that was destroyed in the worst wildfire in California history. They bantered between songs, clearly ecstatic to play the downtown arena for a good cause.

The chart-topping acoustic duo Coldweather Sons opened California Rising, a benefit concert to raise money for victims of the November fires in advance of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s inauguration. Aside from the philanthropic theme, the night featured several takes on what a benefit show in the wake of a tragedy could be, with hopeful notes and awkward moments.

Next up were public officials: state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea and Paradise Mayor Jody Jones. Nielsen commended the state for the outpouring of support, and Honea praised the work of first responders. Jones reminded the audience that Paradise isn’t gone.

“As the saying goes around town, we’re just going through a remodel,” Jones told the audience. “Starbucks is set to open on Tuesday.” Soon after, State Senator Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, addressed the crowd on climate change.

Then the tone shifted. After a dance-y performance by Australian singer-songwriter Betty Who, Newsom and his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom came on stage. Newsom announced that close to $5 million was raised for the California Fire Foundation. He teased to the next performer, the rap star Common.

“I know you’re like, ‘Where’s Common?’” Newsom said. “But first, Jen and I have a song we want to sing.”

He was joking. It was funny. He wasn’t done though—singing the praises of Common for his work in social justice and his artistic successes (“He won a damn Oscar!”). Gavin concluded, “He’s almost like the Jerry Brown of hip-hop.”

Common entered with the song “Glory,” and the audience dug it. He’s good at what he does, and it was just as physical a performance as any other that night.

Eventually, Common shifted the conversation to women. He performed “The Day Women Took Over” and showed off his “Believe Women” T-shirt. It was a powerful message, though some of the lyrics seemed very trivial, and the issues mentioned weren’t explored, just name-dropped.

Then there was a bizarre scene in which, Common explained, he would show the crowd how to approach a woman like a gentleman. He invited a woman from the crowd—a single woman, he specified—to join him on stage.

What followed was a semi-freestyle performance in which Common and Tracy got close. He asked Tracy what she was drinking that night, called her sexy in verse and suggested they could make another Tiger Woods. There was some OK rhyming, but following up his message of women’s empowerment by making advances to a random woman seemed hugely tone-deaf.

X Ambassadors and Pitbull also performed. It was a good night overall, and the novelty of having a governor introduce a musical act is unbeatable. Since he’ll be in town, Newsom should consider making the role at G1C a recurring one.