Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Regina Spektor and many others contributed to a potent sonic cocktail that rocked Carnegie Hall at the 20th Annual Benefit Concert for Tibet House US, a non-profit organization charged with preserving Tibetan culture.
An avid fan of Tibetan art since his teen years, Pop says the world cannot afford to lose it.
"(Tibetans have) been getting kind of a bum deal for like 50, 60 years now ... sort of losing their spot on Earth," said Pop.
Tibet is ruled by China. China insists Tibet has been part of its territory for four centuries and has governed the Himalayan region with an iron first since communist troops took control there in 1951. But many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of their history and say Chinese rule and economic exploitation are eroding their traditional Buddhist culture. They have been fighting for greater autonomy for years.
Spektor, who was born in the former Soviet Union and later immigrated to the Bronx, said her familiarity with hardship makes her sensitive to the Tibetan people.
"I'm all about protecting people's heritage," she said. "Any place that is kind of in danger of losing their culture or being oppressed and not being able to practice their religion just feels to me very close.
Traditional chants by monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery opened the concert. A highlight was a performance by 15-year-old Tenzin Kunsel, a Tibetan refugee who moved to the United States in 2003. She performed a Tibetan aria, backed by the Patti Smith Band.
"It feels like I'm fitting right in," Kunsel said. "It's such an honor that I got a chance to perform with such amazing people."
Gogol Bordello, Pierce Turner and Jesse Smith — daughter of Patti— were also among the acts on the Carnegie stage. The lineup was curated by the event's artistic director, noted composer Philip Glass. He also performed.
The Patti Smith Band helped close out the night with the punk classic "Gloria." At the end of her set, she introduced a soon-to-be-shirtless Pop, who dived right into his 1970s hit, "Passenger."
The concert closed with a group performance of Smith's "People Have the Power," — an apropos tune for a benefit — and the audience rose to their feet in an explosion of applause.