On Sunday night, November 12, 2023, I headed down to the North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre to capture Vets Aid, a concert put on by Joe Walsh and friends to benefit American Veterans. It was a great day of music, capped off by one of the best sets of music I have seen this year, but I will get to that in a little bit, let’s just start at the beginning. In 2017 Joe Walsh put together the first Vets Aid concert, with performances by Zac Brown Band, Keith Urban, Gary Clark Jr, and of course Joe. They have been putting on yearly shows ever since, with a different set of friends joining in. The show this year was raising money to help California’s veteran population. The recipients of the grants this year were: Large Grant Recipients: Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD), Veterans Legal Institute, Foundation for Women Warriors, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, Creativets and the Community Grant Recipients: Shelter to Soldier, Vets’ Community Connections, Honor Flight San Diego, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Cal-Diego Chapter, Fisher House Southern California, HunterSeven Foundation, zero8hundred, Navy Marine Corps PROUD Foundation.
The afternoon started with a quick photo op with the performers and the only time during the concert that I would be able to photograph Jeff Lynne’s ELO as he did not allow any photography during their set. The thing that was really noticeable during the photo op and press conference is how much fun everyone seemed to be having. That showed up again and again during the show, especially when Joe was joined by Stephen Stills on stage. More on that later on. Joe and his wife, Marjorie Bach gave a brief history of the organization, why it was formed, and what it hopes to accomplish. They also talked about the year-long planning that has to go into a show like this. The lineup is an eclectic mix of music and musicians that, well, Joe really likes. This year the lineup was, well, I’ll let Joe describe it: “My good buddy Jeff is bringing the ELO experience for their first show since 2019. The War on Drugs is one of my favorite bands out there doing it and I’m thrilled to be able to welcome them. The Flaming Lips are a perpetual joy machine that will dazzle our audience; if you know, you know, and if you don’t – you will! Lucius are two spectacular vocal artists and songwriters who will take your breath away. And to top it all off we have my dear friend and hero Stephen Stills joining as a special guest.” That is one interesting lineup.
After the press conference, we took up our positions at the soundboard and got to see Drew Carey playing DJ for the crowd. He acted as MC during the show and the live stream. Then we had a short introduction video about Vets Aid and the recipients of the 2023 grants along with a performance by the Marine Band San Diego. I’m going to jump a little ahead to the surprise song performed before the Joe Walsh set by his friend and San Diego resident Jack Tempchin, who performed “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, a song he wrote and the Eagles recorded on their 1972 debut album. It was a beautiful rendition and the whole amphitheatre was singing along.
The first band of the night was Lucius, A really great sounding band I had never heard of before, but that’s not to say I haven’t heard the lead vocalists, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig before. They have actually sang with Rogers Waters, Jackson Browne, John Legend, Grace Potter, The War On Drugs, Brandi Carlile and Harry Styles. So chances are you might have heard them as well. It was an enjoyable set and a great start to the evening.
1) Nothing Ordinary
2) Next to Normal
4) Stranger Danger
5) The Man I’ll Never Find
6) Dusty Trails
Next to take the stage was The Flaming Lips. If you haven’t heard of the Flaming Lips before, then this set of images isn’t going to paint an accurate picture of a Flaming Lips show. Yes, I know there were giant pink robots inflated on the stage but that’s kind of tame for the things you can see at a Flaming Lips show. Maybe the most iconic moment was when Wayne Coyne held up the “Fuck Yeah Vets Aid” Ballons. As this was past the allotted three-song limit, I have no photos of it, but you will have to trust me when I say it got a massive reaction from the crowd.
The Flaming Lips Setlist
1.) Fight Test
2.) One More Robot / Sympathy 3000-21
3.) Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt 1
4) Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Pt 2
5) She Doesn’t Use Jelly
6) The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)
7) Do You Realize??
8) Race For The Prize
It was now time for The War On Drugs, and this was another first for me. I had heard great things about this band but had never seen them live before. They did not disappoint. Even with a man down, (Robbie Bennett was absent), the band had a great, full sound, and a really fun set. The six-tune setlist came from three different records and they had Lucius doing them on the last tune. As a photographer stuck in a single spot, I found their lighting challenging and it was difficult to shoot without microphones in the way. As a spectator, the moody lighting was perfect for their performance.
The War On Drugs Setlist:
2.) Red Eyes
3.) Strangest Thing
4.) Eyes to the Wind
5.) Under the Pressure
6) I Don’t Live Here Anymore (with Lucius)
Then it was time for Jeff Lynne’s ELO, but sadly we were not allowed to shoot their set.
Finally, it was time for Joe Walsh to take the stage. This was the second time seeing and photographing Joe this year as I was lucky enough to catch the Eagles Hotel California tour back in March. The eight-song set by Joe (with special guest Stephen Stills on 3 of the tunes) was a real treat. I loved every single moment of this set and the sheer happiness that was evident on stage during this set was a perfect example of what I mean when I say that the best show is when the musicians are having fun. My only issue with the set was that it was too short. but as the show was already past the 11pm curfew, I guess it was time for everyone to go home. As you go through he gallery, check out Drew Carey acting as guitar tech and delivering Joe his Gibson Les Paul during “Rocky Mountain Way”, a great way to sum up how we all felt about Joe during Vets Aid 2023
Joe Walsh Setlist:
1) In The City
2) Life’s Been Good
3) Turn To Stone
4) Funk #49
5) For What Its Worth (with Stephen Stills)
6) Love The One You’re With (with Stephen Stills)
7) Rocky Mountain Way (with Stephen Stills)
8) All Night Long
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Alan Hess is a photographer based in San Diego, where he lives with his wife and two rescued boxers.
Alan is currently the house photographer for a large concert and event venue in Southern California where he photographs everything from major musical acts to ice hockey. When he isn’t out taking photographs, he spends his time writing books and is an accomplished photography educator and trainer.
Alan’s images have been published in a variety of places including news papers, magazines, websites, promotional materials, album artwork, and press releases. His clients include The Associated Press, Fox Television, FX Network, USA Network, Hasbro, Framus Guitars, Gibson, The Dead, Picture Group, Photoshop User Magazine, Steel Pulse, Ziggy Marley, and many more.
He is the author of sixteen photography and technology books covering everything from night and low light photography to multiple shot techniques. His books are sold around the world and have been translated in other languages including: Chinese, French, Polish, Japanese, Thai, and Italian.