The Austin-based Andy Roddick Foundation is celebrating its 15th year in 2015, and for 10 of those years a linchpin of the foundation’s fundraising efforts has been a gala dinner and auction that concludes with an intimate musical performance by a major star. In five of those 10 years, Elton John has stepped up for the cause, and he took center stage for the event again this year on Monday night at ACL Live.
Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open tennis champion, moved his foundation to Austin from Boca Raton, Florida, in 2011, the same year the gala moved into ACL Live after a few years at the Hilton. (The concert’s relocation to Austin preceded the foundation’s move here.) Lionel Richie, Jimmy Buffett, John Legend and Darius Rucker also have played the event, but John is clearly the Roddick Foundation’s go-to performer.
John took the stage at about 9:45 p.m., after Roddick announced that the evening’s dinner and auction (which began at 6:30 p.m.) had brought in a record amount of fundraising for the ARF. Dressed in sparkly purple, including a regal gown with the initials “EJ” on the back, John performed 11 songs solo at a long concert piano, beginning with “Tiny Dancer” and ending with the Marilyn Monroe/Princess Diana tribute “Candle in the Wind.”
In between, he focused mostly on the 1970s songs that vaulted him to stardom, leaving that era only for 1983’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.” Though his inability to reach the high notes of his youth took a little bit of shine from numbers such as “Levon” and “Burn Down the Mission,” John hit a sweet spot on the inspirational “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and the playful “Bennie and the Jets.”
Intriguing extended piano intros added flair to early-set selections “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Rocket Man,” though the latter suffered from too much histrionic improv toward the end of the song. Perhaps best of the night was “Your Song,” from 1970, which became John’s first top-10 single. He prefaced it with a touching tribute to his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin; it would have been nice to hear such brief stories about the other songs as well, but that was the only such intro of the evening.
John praised Roddick for having a “brilliantly run foundation,” and at the end of the 70-minute performance, the two shared an embrace as they gave a final wave to the crowd. No doubt some wished for an encore of “Daniel” or “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” but at such fundraising galas, the show is ultimately second to the cause, and those attending seemed to understand.
The Andy Roddick Foundation’s stated mission is “to work with our community to expand opportunities for young people to learn, thrive, and succeed.” The past two years, that has included a summer learning program at Pecan Springs Elementary School in Northeast Austin; this year’s lessons will focus on an “Around the World” theme to educate children about other countries and their cultures. The foundation also this year helped found the “School’s Out Central Texas” initiative, which aims to provide high-quality learning opportunities outside the classroom for all Austin-area students.
1. Tiny Dancer
2. Your Song
3. Burn Down the Mission
4. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
5. Rocket Man
6. I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
8. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
9. Bennie and the Jets
10. Philadelphia Freedom
11. Candle in the Wind