Patti Smith On the Circuit
If you’re on the benefit circuit these slightly humid days of May, one unexpected person you might run into on a more than regular basis is the singer-songwriter Patti Smith.
In the last two weeks alone, she has performed at the PEN Gala, at several ancillary PEN events and at the American Patrons of Tate’s Artists’ Dinner on Tuesday. On May 15, Ms. Smith will perform for the American Folk Art Museum’s Benefit, which will celebrate an exhibit by Henry Darger.
“We probably do more benefits in New York City than things that generate actual income,” Ms. Smith said this week. “But we feel that’s part of our duty.”
The way she chooses where and when to perform, she explained, is based first on people in need and second, if it’s for an institution she appreciates. “I really like the Folk Museum,” Ms. Smith said. “And I love the Public Library.”
Ms. Smith said she and her “very flexible” band “never do the same set ever.” At the PEN Gala, she sang three songs by herself with an acoustic guitar. At the Tate party, for which she was privately compensated, she said, because it wasn’t a benefit per se, she performed three songs with another musician. The Folk Museum event “will be much more ambitious,” Ms. Smith explained. “We don’t have any limit so we’ll sing as many songs as they want.”
No matter if she’s playing with a full band or by herself, Ms. Smith said that she always makes her set list right before performing. “It does frustrate some people,” she explained, “though I don’t do it for that reason. I really like for everything to be fresh and to get a feeling for the vibe of the place.”
Despite Ms. Smith’s generosity, she added, “We’re also always happy to be paid and make a living.”