Band Together concerts showed celebrities have a heart

‘We can’t sit idly by,” San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer said last October as fires ravaged the North Bay.

While the fires were still burning, he and a group of community leaders met to plan a fundraising event.

Rabbi Ryan Bauer of San Francisco’s Temple Emmanu-El hosted the meeting. Also present were Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, a platform for cloud-based sales and marketing services, and Daniel Lurie, founder and CEO of Tipping Point Community, an anti-poverty group that has raised more than $150 million for housing, education and disaster relief since it was founded in 2005. Both agreed to take lead roles.

Benioff mentioned that his company had a private concert coming up “a week from Tuesday” at AT&T Park for attendees of its Dreamforce conference, and that the staging would be in place. If top Bay Area musicians would agree to perform at a benefit concert, they’d have a place to play.

Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich dialed in on a conference line to say the band was all in, and soon Dead & Company members cleared their schedules.

The Band Together benefit was born, with more than $31 million raised so far through concerts, other events and direct donations.

“Once Metallica said they were in (for the first concert), it was kind of off to the races,” Lurie said. “That kind of opened the floodgates.”

Metallica was followed by musicians Dave Matthews, G-Eazy, Raphael Saadiq and Rancid, who performed Nov. 9 for a crowd of 40,000 and raised $17 million for North Bay fire relief.

A concert was the ideal fundraiser because “you need a galvanizing event,” Baer said. “Nobody needs to be persuaded about the North Bay fires, but if you create something for everybody, with social media, there becomes a buzz; two plus two can equal five.”

The evening was much more than just a typical concert. About 7,000 free tickets were distributed to firefighters, 911 operators and other first responders. There also was free admission for fire victims, including many who had lost their homes.

“That front section closest to the stage was reserved for them,” Tipping Point’s Lurie said.

Community leaders and first responders were honored onstage by the musicians and sports legends including Buster Posey and Barry Bonds. Santa Rosa Fire Department Battalion Chief Scott Westrope lost his Larkfield home near Sutter Hospital to fire as he fought relentlessly to save the homes of others. He and his 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son were invited to attend the first Band Together concert.

“It was a really good opportunity for us, the public safety professionals who were there, to get out of town and let our hair down and just be human again,” Westrope said. “It was good for the public safety community for their healing process.”

But the highlight was getting to meet Metallica.

“I’ve been a lifelong fan of that band,” Westrope said, and his children have grown up listening to their music. The kids, he said, “understood how special it was.”

Westrope said the band members “really cared and wanted to hear our story and how we were doing. It was very heartfelt. You could tell they really wanted to be there and wanted to help the community. They were salt of the Earth.”

Athletes, musicians and others, Baer said, “get a rap because of the money that’s out there, but the reality is so many of these performers have a huge heart. They want to take their celebrity and put it to good use.”

The Nov. 9 concert was just the beginning. Lurie said he views it as the catalyst “to do hopefully a year or year’s worth of giving because the needs can’t be met with one concert or one month’s worth of giving.”

A second Band Together concert followed Dec. 14 at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco, headlined by Red Hot Chili Peppers and featuring Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. Tickets sold for $99.50 each.

Naomi Fuchs, CEO of Santa Rosa Community Health, got onstage that night to introduce the lead act after screening a short film about how the funds raised would help rebuild a clinic lost in the fire.

Tipping Point, which stepped in to distribute the funds, granted Santa Rosa Community Health $2.5 million to help replace the lost clinic. The agency maintains nine campuses and serves 50,000 low-income clients each year. Lurie said Tipping Point has a three-phase plan for distributing the Emergency Relief Fund. The first phase was immediate relief, during which $8.1 million was disbursed to nonprofits that include UndocuFund, Catholic Charities, Redwood Empire Food Bank, Redwood Credit Union Community Fund and Community Foundations of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Second is the recovery phase, expected to last from three to nine months, Lurie said. The final phase is rebuilding, with Tipping Point committed to distributing all donations by the end of this year.

Fundraising was maximized at the concerts by keeping expenses low and getting corporate sponsors to make major donations. Google, for example, donated $1 million for the first concert.

“They got a suite for the concert, and they also got tickets they could give to first responders and people who were displaced,” Baer said.

Expenses were kept low in a number of ways. Staging was in place, and bands worked for free. The Giants absorbed much of the cost and led the effort to distribute 7,000 free tickets, about 15 percent of the seats.

Competing concert producers Live Nation and Another Planet also worked together on the benefits, and Ticketmaster donated its proceeds from the event.

Lurie expects fundraising efforts to continue “for as long as the need exists, and obviously the needs exist,” he said.

Local musician Bonnie Raitt will donate all proceeds from her March 20 show at Oakland’s Fox Theater to Tipping Point’s Emergency Relief Fund, and during the upcoming baseball season, the Giants will continue to support fundraising efforts. Lurie, who has dedicated himself to relief work since helping with post-9/11 recovery efforts, noted that beyond being fundraising vehicles, concerts help bring people together.

“Music builds community. It builds resilience, and helps people hope and dream of something better,” he said. “This is what we built Tipping Point for, to respond and to take action, especially on behalf of those that don’t have the ability always to fight for themselves.”

There’s something special about the Bay Area and the willingness of people here to help one another, Baer added.

“There is a level of empathy here and a level of leading with your heart that is second to none. There is a spirit of tolerance, a spirit of diversity … that everybody wants to celebrate. Everybody wants to take care of each other.”

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