Everyone picking tunes Saturday at the Coronet Theatre sure was on friendly terms: Bob Neuwirth introduced lute player Sandy Bull as a pal of 28 years and said he goes back 11 with salsa specialist Ruben Blades; local folk singer Peter Case introduced close personal friend (and wife) Victoria Williams; and well, who hasn't been produced by, written songs with or at least been chummy with T Bone Burnett?
The neo-bohemian spirit of that easy musical networking had a special resonance of freedom after all the talk of non-freedom at the show--a benefit for Refugees International, an organization seeking to provide a voice for those forcibly separated from their homelands.
Following actor-monologuist Spalding Gray's serio-comic reading of "Swimming to Cambodia, Part II" and impassioned pleas for support from Gray's fellow "Killing Fields" alumni Sam Waterston and Haing S. Ngor, the second half was given over to acoustic songs from a gaggle of singer-songwriters gathered by event organizer Burnett.
Given the sober nature of the cause, the singers were perhaps wary of getting too freewheeling, and Gray's dynamism overshadowed the low-key musical portion of the show--in which each artist did only three or fewer songs. Anyone buying a $150 ticket not out of humanitarianism but looking for a lengthy musical hootenanny most likely went away feeling underfed.