Although Wednesday night's celebration of music from the Coen brothers' upcoming movie "Inside Llewyn Davis" lacked the onstage star power of a New York Film Festival-pegged benefit event (no Patti Smith, Jack White, Marcus Mumford or Joan Baez), it remained a warm, intimate evening featuring ace acoustic music and plenty of A-list toe-tappers.
Americana music institution T Bone Burnett hosted the event at Santa Monica's Buffalo Club, welcoming an audience that included Barbra Streisand and James Brolin, Moby, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Norman Lear, "Eastbound and Down" creator Jody Hill, and actresses Thora Birch and Jennifer Jason Leigh. "Llewyn Davis" filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen also attended, as did the film's producer, Scott Rudin, and actor John Goodman.
The two-hour-plus show was divided into two sets featuring an array of top bluegrass pickers. Steve Martin performed an instrumental song with the night's unofficial house band, the Punch Brothers. ("Thank you," he said, taking the stage. "I am so honored to be receiving this award tonight." Perhaps he was warming up for the film academy's Governors Awards honor on Saturday?) "Llewyn Davis" lead Oscar Issac sang several numbers from the movie during both sets, winning appreciation from the audience and the musicians themselves.
In an evening with no shortage of standout performances, singer Rhiannon Giddens stole the show with her soaring vocals and strong stage presence. Her acrobatic articulation in the traditional Celtic number "S'iomadh Rid The Dhith Om / Ciamar A Ni Mi" defies description. She's a star in waiting.
"Inside Llewyn Davis" follows the singer-songwriter title character (Isaac) through a week in the early 1960s New York folk scene. The movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May to ecstatic reviews. It opens in theaters on Dec. 6.
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