It was back in August when I saw the announcement that Skipper’s Smokehouse — the recently reopened, venerable restaurant and music venue in North Tampa — was going to host a Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers tribute band in honor of what would have been the late rocker’s 71st birthday.
I told Jannah, who is as big a fan of Petty’s music as I am, that I was buying tickets right away — after all, if we can’t ever see Gainesville’s favorite son in person anymore, we might as well go spend an evening sharing our love for him, his band and his music with a few hundred other people at the first live show we’ve attended at Skipper’s since it reopened.
The show took place on Oct. 16, four days before Tom’s birthday and twelve days after the fourth anniversary of his passing from what has been ruled an accidental overdose of the prescribed painkillers he took in order to be able to keep performing for his legion of fans.
When I bought our tickets online, I didn’t realize that the show, which started at 8 p.m., was actually a twin bill — prior to the Petty tribute by the Broken Hearts Band, the Stevie Nicks Experience (SNE) tribute band opened the show with a full 90+-minute set of tunes by Fleetwood Mac and from Stevie’s solo career. Considering that Nicks and Petty became close friends as part of the Los Angeles rock music scene in the mid-to-late ‘70s, the combination wan’t surprising, but it did make for a long night, especially considering that I was on deadline with this issue.
Even so, both bands performed their tribute hits admirably. The SNE got the fans going by rocking out on “The Chain,” “You Make Lovin’ Fun,” “Landslide” and pretty much every recognizable song by Fleetwood Mac and Nicks herself. Although the fans were very receptive to the performance, there were only a few hardcore Nicks lovers dancing to the music and honestly, the set was probably at least 15-30 minutes too long because most everyone in attendance was there (us included) to celebrate Petty’s birthday, not Fleetwood Mac.
The SNE closed their set with the Petty-Nicks duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” with Broken Hearts Band frontman Shawn Scheller coming out from backstage to sing Tom’s part, but his microphone seemed a little off for the song, which made me (and Jannah) a little nervous about how Scheller and his band would sound when it was their turn to take the stage.
But, we were wrong. Scheller and the Broken Hearts sounded perfect, from “Jammin’ Me” to open the set to “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and, of course, “American Girl.”
The crowd was much more raucous and the dance floor more packed for this second set, but there were very few people under age 50 in attendance and the Skipperdome offers very little seating for attendees, so people with bad knees (like me) were begging for more places to sit during the show. The much sadder thing for us, though, was that the magic we hoped to feel by sharing our love for a true Rock & Roll Hall of Famer somewhow wasn’t there.
Although Scheller & Co. were pretty spot-on with most of their renditions, the performance overall felt more like listening to Tom Petty Radio on Sirius XM in my car than it did a Petty concert, which is what I guess I wanted it to feel like. Yes, I got to sing along with most of my Petty favorites, but I do that whenever Jannah and I go to karaoke bars, so I left feeling a little empty.
The show was a too-real reminder that while his music lives on, Tom himself is sadly gone forever and it seems that no tribute band will ever make me feel the way Tom, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and the rest of the Heartbreakers did.
But, speaking of Tom Petty Radio, yours truly will be a guest DJ on the channel’s “The Last DJ” show, where Petty fans get to pick and introduce their five favorite songs by Petty, The Traveling Wilburys, etc.
Because he has such a legion of devoted fans, my “Last DJ” segment won’t air until early 2022, but I’ll give you a heads-up once that date is actually announced.
RIP, Tom. We miss you.