The Benefit featured a diverse range of live performances from Phoebe Bridgers, The Flaming Lips, Cage the Elephant, Annie Lennox, Iggy Pop, and more, all coming together to ring in the Metal Ox New Year with the spirit of warmth and community. All proceeds from the concert benefitted Tibet House U.S., a nonprofit educational and cultural institution founded to ensure the prosperity of Tibetan civilization.
Losar (or “Lo Sar” in Tibetan) is a customary Tibetan celebration period lasting 15 days, dating back hundreds of years. The festival is rooted in Tibetan Buddhism, and is a joyous period meant to bid farewell to the past year’s struggles and usher in a new period of beauty and wisdom. But Tibetan civilization and its culture are under attack, being systematically suppressed by China, which many refer to as an ongoing “cultural genocide.” This live concert aims to raise awareness for what’s happening to Tibetans, and also to preserve the sanctity of their culture.
The annual Benefit usually takes place in NYC’s iconic Carnegie Hall, but was obviously held virtually amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, the cultural concert was held live thanks to Mandolin, which describes itself as the “premier” concert livestream platform for artists, venues, and fans alike.
“We have been working around the clock alongside the Tibet House, from concepting creative and running production to managing artist booking and offering fundraising support,” notes Mary Kay Huse, CEO of Mandolin, in a quote from Rolling Stone. Fortunately, the hard work paid off.
Like previous years, the 2021 benefit was curated by composer and artistic director Philip Glass, who is widely considered one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century. The Benefit even featured a pre-recorded introduction from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, a rare appearance for the spiritual leader.
The Benefit opened with Iggy Pop’s recitation of Dylan Thomas’ classic poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” followed by a few short words from Glass. Later on, Black Pumas beautifully played their song “Colors,” with soulful harmonies and a slew of live musicians, including a keyboardist and several backup vocalists.
The Flaming Lips played two songs from their pre-recorded, “space bubble” set from earlier in January in Oklahoma, where 100 inflatable bubbles that held up to three people were scattered in the crowd. Shortly after came a moving performance from Angélique Kidjo, one of the greatest artists in international music, that TIME Magazine has called “Africa’s premier diva.” Nearly two hours in, Cage the Elephant’s “Skin and Bones” was played in a darkly lit, ambient studio, and the live song sounded almost as good as the recording version. The bandmates all looked across at each other and smiled as the guitar riff opening to “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” started playing.
Other select songs included Brittany Howard singing “Stay High,” Annie Lennox’s “You Placed a Chill in My Heart,” and Valerie June’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” All in all, it was a beautiful virtual concert filled with moments of inspiration and hope, with many Tibetan voices and performers playing throughout the event.
The fact that the event went off without a hitch speaks to the success of virtual events in this social-distancing age, indicating that virtual concerts could very well be around even after in-person concerts continue. For some, the prospect of enjoying live music – from the comfort of your couch or bed – might be appealing even after the pandemic ends. As a publication for music lovers, I think I can speak for most of us when I say that there’s nothing quite like the exhilaration and rush of seeing your favorite band live; but still, COVID-19 is accelerating different trends, especially for physical events hesitating to digitally adapt.
With this shift (and again, this is after we return to normal), who’s to say we can’t tune into international concerts happening elsewhere around the globe – like the U.K.’s Glastonbury Festival, or even Coachella for that matter? It would certainly open up new revenue streams for venues and festivals, as they can now market live streams to virtual attendees, even if they don’t physically attend. It might seem unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
Still, as of today, it doesn’t look like in-person concerts will be happening anytime soon – at least like we’re used to. Earlier this week, President Joe Biden cautiously stated we could see a return to some semblance of normal by Christmas. At this rate, let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can all enjoy next year’s Tibet House U.S. Benefit Concert in-person together at Carnegie Hall.
If you were unable to attend last night’s concert, consider making a donation to Tibet House US via Venmo (@tibethouse).