Don Law, the veteran concert promoter and president of Live Nation New England, was in his office when he learned about the Boston Marathon bombings.
It wasn’t long before his phone started ringing. Among the first to call him was Jared Paul, the manager of New Kids on the Block, who suggested some sort of event to raise money for the victims. Law, whose power and reach have run deep within the entertainment industry during a four-decade career, sprang into action. He called his old friend James Taylor, who immediately signed on, and next Law got an e-mail from Jimmy Buffett asking how he could help. And then the wheels really started to turn.
Barely two weeks after the bombings, Law and his team had assembled Boston Strong, a benefit concert for the One Fund that comes to TD Garden on Thursday. Tickets, which ranged from $35 to $285, sold out in five minutes, with fans hungry to help the victims and enjoy a rare opportunity to hear a lineup featuring the region’s musical and comedic ambassadors: Taylor, Aerosmith, the J. Geils Band, Boston, New Kids on the Block, Extreme, Dropkick Murphys, Dane Cook, and Steven Wright will all perform for free.
“After these horrendous attacks, almost immediately I was standing in front of my television, trying to think of what I could do to lead the charge back in my old stomping grounds,” said Cook, who watched the bombing coverage from his home in Los Angeles, worried about his family back in Arlington, where he grew up.
And while others playing – Buffett, Carole King, Jason Aldean – don’t have roots here, they feel a connection with both the city and the tragedy it endured April 15.
“I’m sorry there’s a reason for me to be there, but I’m also glad I can be,” King said. “Like everyone coming, I’m in solidarity with Boston and the great people of Massachusetts.”
That sentiment rang true for a lot of the evening’s performers. Ahead of his sold-out run at Fenway Park (July 12-13), country superstar Aldean decided to come early to lend his support.
“Like everybody else, you’re watching TV and hearing all the news about the bombings, and you’re thinking, ‘I wish I could do something,’” Aldean told the Globe last month. “So when something comes up and you get called to do it, you’re like, ‘Yeah, no doubt!’ That’s the good thing about what we do — you’re in a position to help out. I think that’s part of what we’re put here to do.”
From the get-go, the magnitude of the event, which is expected to run four hours, posed something of a production nightmare.
“I think there are a lot of logistical and financial challenges with so many people coming from so many different areas,” Law said. “But we’ve had a phenomenal response, including from a number of the hotels giving us rooms and suites for a couple of days – in the middle of graduation season. Jason Aldean is flying in at a great expense, and, of course, we have to get Aerosmith from the Far East.” (Steven Tyler and the gang have a gig in Singapore just a few days prior).
To maximize the concert’s donation to the One Fund, which Law preferred not to project, almost everyone is working for free, from Law’s team to the Garden staff (the venue also waived its rental fee) to the artists themselves. The only expenses involved are to cover the costs of labor and shipping.
With so many high-profile artists in the house, how will the Garden even accommodate such a roster? Many of the musicians have sold out the Garden on their own and often make specific demands on what needs to be in their dressing room.
“Oh, my god. We’re going to need cattle prods,” Law joked. “We’re going to use everything the Garden has. The problem with any time you have a Boston band [performing], is everybody they know shows up.
“Artists are going to be making major sacrifices to what they’re accustomed to,” Law added. “We had a wonderful e-mail from Jason Aldean saying he was minimizing all costs so that as much money could go to the One Fund as possible.”
Amy Latimer, president of TD Garden, admitted that the show will make for some cozy interactions that might not typically happen.
“Luckily, the artists are all being flexible given the number of people backstage and the magnitude of this show,” Latimer wrote in an e-mail. “There will be some common areas for the artists to hang out and watch the others perform. I’m sure there will be some new friendships coming out of this event.”
Pity the person responsible for arranging the performance times. New Kids on the Block’s Joey McIntyre had a suggestion: “You step back and let the big guys fight it out, and then hopefully you can sneak in there for a few minutes. That’s what you do.”
Even at this late stage, performance details are still coming together, from how long acts will perform, to what, exactly, they will sing. Taylor said that he imagines he, King, and Buffett will perform around the same time, even sharing Taylor’s musicians as the backing band. When it was suggested that the concert close with “You’ve Got a Friend,” which King wrote and Taylor made into a No. 1 hit, Taylor liked the idea.
“Carole was open to that suggestion, but I think it may rather close the segment we do together,” he said. (King was mum on the matter.)
Laughter, unlike music, can be tricky for an event honoring those who lost their lives and many more who were gravely injured and are only just beginning the healing process.
“It’s a challenge in the sense that you’re very mindful of why the evening is taking place,” said Cook. “You can’t help but go in with a heavy heart, even though the purpose is to find healing through music and laughter and community. It’s in the back of your mind all along that these festivities wouldn’t be able to take place if it wasn’t for this atrocious moment in our history.”
The benefit also underlines the cultural significance of the Boston Marathon. Cook, for example, said he has never participated but wants to run it now more than ever. And Taylor seemed shocked that heartache could come from such a spirited institution.
“I don’t know any of the victims personally myself, but you couldn’t really find a more inclusive event than the Boston Marathon,” Taylor said, adding he has been in touch through e-mail with some of the victims. “It seems like such a quintessentially New England kind of event, that it seems so wrong that it would be targeted.”
McIntyre, who ran in this year’s race, witnessed the tragedy up close. He crossed the finish line about 10 minutes before the blasts. “I was sitting on a bench in Copley Place about 100 yards away,” he said. “It was horrific.”
There was never any doubt that New Kids would be involved with Boston Strong, he said, particularly since the initial idea came from the band’s management.
“It’s a gift to be able to help in any way,” McIntyre said. “Donnie [Wahlberg, his bandmate] said, ‘If we baked bread, we’d help that way. But we sing, so this is what we’re going to do.”