Read the lyrics of almost any Soundgarden song, and the internal battles in Chris Cornell‘s head will become very evident.

And what a band it was to back up and give chorus to those lyrics! The songs were catchy. They had hooks. Brazing them to Cornell’s words gave the songs legendary and unmatched swagger. Together they represented equal levels of curiosity and creativity. A Soundgarden song can be identified almost immediately – especially if the song is in the “High Rotation” that has existed for their work since MTV played videos. Soundgarden was the advanced class in grunge, moving beyond simple songs about drugs or death – passing into the realm where those things were merely part of a larger question about the world.

It’s no surprise that Cornell’s words still bounce off many walls and amplifiers long after they were written.

But Chris’ journey to and through those lyrics was clearly a painful one. He wrote with angst and visual acumen; and he knew it was bothering you too. Chris was the dude who lived the next block over – the one who drank with your older brother and drove a ratty `81 Camaro. He was the guy at the record store who knew what you needed before you got two words out. He was the neighbor in the apartment above you who was always coming in at 3:30am. He lived among us, and wrote for us.

And his message wasn’t always pretty.

But at the same time his message was simply veiled in creative imagery, like he wanted us to know something was up without telling us the whole story. Many of us would never make the connection. Six years ago this month that story came to an end, when he was found lifeless in his Detroit hotel after a show. At that point the world put a renewed view on the lyrics of Chris Cornell, and discovered that 2017 was almost prophetic.

We miss him now, and always will.

On April 29th, Rain Light Fade and Nehi Stripes hosted an event in honor of Chris Cornell’s music, and benefiting NAMISEATTLE’S SON: A Tribute to Chris Cornell. The show at the High Dive in Fremont was sold out, which meant the venue was packed end to end. Each of the five bands performed Cornell material, and each one offered it in a different flavor:

The Oh Wells brought a twangy Americana sound to the show; they were truly a strong opening for the night!.

Always Naked started their set with a slow and soulful version of Black Hole Sun – and completed their time on stage with an energetic and punk-saturated cover of Ty Cobb.

Outshined came through with a powerful tribute to Soundgarden’s music.

AISHA, as always, blazed the stage with straight forward rock and soaring vocals.

After greetings from Cindy Cavins with Nehi Stripes, and a giveaway by photographer Karen Mason-Blair, Rain Light Fade finished up the night, tight as ever. Their talent provided a wonderful high-powered gift to the audience near the end of the set.

Artis The Spoonman came on stage to perform his namesake song one final time with Rain Light Fade. Beforehand, and without a mic, he shared with the crowd his own struggles with mental health and brain injuries. Without the services and support that NAMI provided, he would have been lost. Since the show was a benefit, he urged those in attendance to give and support NAMI for all they do in the community. With their help, many have gotten their lives back – including Artis.

Then they launched into a fantastic cover of the song Spoonman!

And, just in case you crave the whole thing, here’s the song list for the whole night!

  1. I Am the Highway (Oh Wells)
  2. Dead Wishes (Oh Wells)
  3. Fell on Black Days (Oh Wells)
  4. Sunshower (Oh Wells)
  5. Say Hello 2 Heaven (Always Naked)
  6. Billie Jean (Always Naked)
  7. Promise (Always Naked)
  8. Show Me How to Live (Always Naked)
  9. Ty Cobb (Always Naked)
  10. Burden in My Hand (Outshined)
  11. Pretty Noose (Outshined)
  12. Seasons (Outshined)
  13. The Day I Tried to Live (Outshined)
  14. Gun (Outshined)
  15. Searching with My Good Eye Closed (Outshined)
  16. Slaves and Bulldozers (Aisha)
  17. Rusty Cage (Aisha)
  18. Holy Water (Aisha)
  19. Jesus Christ Pose (Aisha)
  20. Beyond the Wheel (Aisha)
  21. Birth Ritual (RLF w/Aisha and Ira Merrill)
  22. Let Me Drown (RLF)
  23. Outshined (RLF w/Kevin James Hoffman)
  24. Can’t Change Me (RLF)
  25. Reach Down (intro)
  26. Black Hole Sun (RLF)
  27. Spoonman (RLF w/Artis the Spoonman)
  28. Cochise (RLF w/JT Phillips)
  29. Hunger Strike (RLF w/Kevin James Hoffman and JT Phillips)

I asked Dane after the show to give me some of his thoughts about how the whole event worked out. Tired, relieved, and grateful were the three things that popped out to me in what he shared.

“This show took almost two and a half years to actually happen. We came up with the concept for it back in early 2021 when we were still prepping for the Singles Soundtrack MusiCares livestream. That event ended up being such a big success that the people in charge began asking what we were gonna do next. So we immediately got to work on the Cornell Tribute. 

We reached out to Artis, who graciously agreed to join us, and we had everything lined up and ready to go for a January 2022 show date. Then, unfortunately, there were rumors of a second wave of Covid shutdowns. The venue got nervous and no longer wanted to back the show. Thankfully, the High Dive stepped in and agreed to host, so we pushed the show to April. But due to the Omicron variant and various scheduling conflicts, we ended up having to put the whole plan on the back burner. It honestly felt like the show was never going to happen. 

Fast forward one year, and here we are!

Honestly, now that the show is done, I am relieved. We put so much time and planning into this; we hoped the event would strike a chord with the community and that we would pull in a good crowd, but we did NOT expect a sellout. And we didn’t expect the amount of love and the feeling of family that we felt on the stage and in that room.

The venue staff was fantastic, the camaraderie between the musicians was palpable, and the crowd was just beautiful. We even had members of the staff coming up to us afterwards talking about how incredible the audience was the entire night. 

Nehi Stripes coming alongside to present and promote was a Godsend. Cindy and Kurt are such great people, and are so passionate about the Seattle music community and its history. Karen Mason-Blair is a rock star, and having her photography on display was perfect. 

And Artis… to have Artis involved was the thing that just took it over the top. He’s an amazingly humble and compassionate man, and a ridiculously good musician. Playing with him was a dream come true.

The fact that we could all come together, honor Chris’ legacy, and bring in close to $3000 for NAMI is overwhelming. 

This is a night we will never forget.

And we’ve already got plans for the next event!”

From my place near the stage I experienced an enthusiastic crowd keeping their energy high throughout the entire event. A true mark of music’s worth is seeing many in the crowd with the eyes closed and singing along.

Also in attendance with my buddy Cindy from Nehi Stripes, photographer Karen Mason Blair shared prints of her photos from the grunge era, while also giving some away from the stage during the show. Nick Pollock of My Sister’s Machine and Ryan Castle with KISW 99.9FM also helped Cindy and Karen hold down the fort near the merch tables – enjoying the show’s many facets from crowd to performers.

The songs, the sounds, and the love for community moved through everyone; it was a clear message of the freedom and joy that is brought to us by the power of music. And when that music is poignant, original, catchy, and soulful, for five ethereal hours ALL is right in the world. The modern day is left at the door; once you’ve paid and you’re stamped, it’s the music that embraces you. Chris Cornell was there, the dude among us. His messages of wonder and the life questions he posed ended up as an open diary for us – the fans of Soundgarden and his solo work. He made us proud of our zip codes and, as his talent has now been lost to our realm, makes us all think of what’s ahead for each person. NAMI was the perfect beneficiary that night, for those who might struggle like he did.

The warmth, the love, and most of all the music are valid reasons to do this kind of tribute to Chris Cornell again! The $3000 donation that night to NAMI was monumental, and will give that group the chance to do wonderful things for people who need help getting their minds straight. People like you and me, People like Chris Cornell. People who can benefit from the kindness we can all extend – without any notion of reward. It was the right thing to do. Even one reclaimed life makes it right.

Love you all. See you at the stage!