by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
The rock music world shrunk again this week with the passing of rock legend Tom Petty, who performed in the Emerald City with his longtime band, The Heartbreakers, just seven weeks ago to a sold out audience at Safeco Field.
I was at his latest Seattle show, in the eleventh row on the field with a perfect view of Petty and amongst very enthusiastic fans who stood, sang and danced from beginning to end; some even danced with complete strangers. That's a typical Petty performance; the crowd just really gets into it. I was fortunate to see him in concert five times at five separate venues - The Gorge, White River Amphitheatre, Tacoma Dome, Pemberton Festival (British Columbia, Canada) and Safeco Field - and each show took on the atmosphere of a giant backyard party, especially when they jammed outdoors at The Gorge Amphitheatre.
Petty, with his Heartbreakers and as an occasional solo act, was a major mainstream rock artist selling millions of records around the world and inspiring generations of performers after him, many who represented more of an alternative sound, like Seattle's own Eddie Vedder. The Pearl Jam frontman was a friend of Petty's, who collaborated on 'The Waiting' with him at White River Amphitheatre in 2006, the same show Stevie Nicks appeared at, as well, and dueted with Petty on their '80s hit 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around.'
The Safeco Field show included nearly two dozen songs, including fan favorites like 'Mary Jane's Last Dance,' 'Refugee,' 'Into the Great Wide Open,' 'Don't Come Around Here No More,' 'Learning to Fly,' 'I Won't Back Down,' 'You Don't Know How It Feels,' 'American Girl,' 'You Wreck Me' and what has become Petty's signature hit, 'Free Fallin'.'
The Seattle performance was part of the 40th anniversary of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who released their self-titled debut in 1976, when they were still based in Gainesville, Florida. Most of the band members migrated to the West Coast in the years that followed. Their last studio recording was 2014's Hypnotic Eye, which earned the band a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album.
Petty went into cardiac arrest early on October 2 at his Malibu residence. CBS News erroneously reported his death, as did Rolling Stone magazine, as he was still clinging to life. But later that evening, at 8:40pm Pacific time, his family released an official statement notifying fans and music industry colleagues that he had passed away peacefully with his loved ones and the Heartbreakers by his side.
Live musical tributes were offered by Coldplay, Sheryl Crow and Govt Mule during their respective performances, while a long list of fellow musicians offered kind words and expressed their condolences via social media, including Elton John, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Bon Jovi, Shania Twain, Def Leppard, Lorde, Travis Barker, Jack Antanoff, Rick Springfield, The Lumineers, who opened the Safeco Field show on August 19, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, who interviewed with Seattle Gay News last month. The list goes on and on because, as Alice Cooper best put it, 'It is so rare to find someone who commands such universal respect in the business. This man delivered a wealth of great songs to his fans and to the world and that is something to celebrate.'
Tom Petty was 66 years old, a multiple Grammy winner, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and truly one of the absolute best songwriters and musicians there ever was.
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