LOS ANGELES — Who better to inspire a little help from your friends than Ringo Starr?
That appeared to be the thought process for filmmaker David Lynch in seeking an honoree to headline a benefit for his foundation, which was created to promote Transcendental Meditation to schoolchildren, military veterans, victims of domestic abuse and others.
Monday at the El Rey Theatre, Lynch presented the ex-Beatle a hefty award in recognition of Starr’s lifetime of peace and love during an evening that featured an abundance of the drummer’s friends and fans.
Performers included Eagles guitarist (and Starr’s brother-in-law) Joe Walsh, soul singer Bettye LaVette, indie rockers Brendan Benson and Ben Folds, Peter Frampton and many others under the direction of bassist, producer and Blue Note Records chief Don Was.
Several hundred folks paid anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000 to attend the show, which featured each guest performing one song from Starr’s years with the Beatles and his solo work before the spotlight was ceded to the evening’s honoree.
Performances ran from carbon-copy arrangements of original recordings — notably the three members of the Head and the Heart doing “Octopus’s Garden” — to drastically reworked reinterpretations such as LaVette’s intensely soulful rendition of Starr’s first post-Beatles hit single, “It Don’t Come Easy.”
Walsh took his best shot at “Back Off Boogaloo,” a Top 10 single for Starr in 1972, and Benson sang a deeper cut, “Don’t Go Where the Road Don’t Go,” from Starr’s 1992 album “Time Takes Time.” Singer-songwriter Ben Harper threw himself into the wistful “Walk With You,” a song co-written by Van Dyke Parks that appeared on Starr’s 2010 album, “Y Not.”
“In all the galaxies of peace and love,” Lynch said, “Ringo is a giant star.” Lynch ended his short testimonial to Starr by saying, “Everybody loves Ringo,” and it was less hype than an assessment of his well-documented reputation as a nearly universally admired member of the rock community.
“It’s weird to be here this evening,” said Starr, 73, when he joined Lynch onstage. “All this praise is overwhelming.” He recounted some of his experience meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967 with the rest of the Beatles, an event that spurred many youths in the West to look into the practice of meditation. He also extolled the work of the David Lynch Foundation, saying: “In the neighborhoods where they’re doing this, violence has gone down. The work speaks for itself.”
Those efforts were singled out by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who gave proclamations to Lynch and Starr and described Starr as “an inspiration to us all.”
After the guest spots, Starr accepted his award from Lynch and then turned in a quick 15-minute set of his own, singing “Photograph,” his early Beatles track “Boys” and concluding with — what else? — “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
“That was an extreme amount of fun,” said Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ keyboardist Benmont Tench. “To get to play ‘Boys’ with him … It’s his fault that I do what I do. Even if he wasn’t in the Beatles, he’d still be my favorite drummer. He’s a very special kind of musician. He does the same thing my heart does.”