To Sully Erna, music is magic. It can inspire. It can heal. It can whisk you back to an almost forgotten time in your life, as if it were yesterday.
On Aug. 27, Erna’s music will be doing something else that’s sort of magical: raising money for two important causes, while heralding the opening of Boston’s newest music venue. Erna and his rock band, Godsmack, will headline a concert dubbed “617 Rocks” at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway to help raise funds for The Scars Foundation, a mental health charity Erna founded and chairs, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It will be the first public concert at the 5,000-seat arena, which is owned by Fenway Sports Group and operated with promoter Live Nation.
For a Lawrence native who has lived near where he grew up throughout his career, Erna said it’s an honor to be on the marquee to open Boston’s newest concert hall.
“I’m looking forward to being part of possible history here at Fenway Park,” Erna said. “I was born and raised here. I’ll never leave this area.”
The show came about when state Senator Barry Finegold was casting about for ideas to celebrate his 50th birthday last year. Finegold, who represents Lawrence and has been impressed with how Erna gives back to the community, wanted to do something memorable that raised money for a charity. The original idea was to raise funds for The Scars Foundation, but the concert was delayed due to uncertainty because of COVID-19 restrictions. Over the course of the last year, Finegold’s wife was diagnosed with cancer; Finegold decided he wanted to help out Dana-Farber as well as Erna’s Foundation and to recognize all the treatments the hospital has provided for friends and family members over the years.
It was Larry Cancro, the Red Sox executive who oversees concerts at Fenway Park, who suggested hosting the Godsmack concert at the MGM Music Hall, to kick things off with style. Corporate sponsors include local companies such as Samuel Adams brewer Boston Beer, Eastern Bank, and Digital Federal Credit Union.
The Scars Foundation, which distributes money for mental health causes, is in its fourth year. It was born in part out of the response Erna received to Godsmack’s 2018 song, “Under Your Scars,” about “finding an acceptance with your imperfections,” as Erna describes it. (Executive director Naomi Fabricant is the foundation’s sole employee.)
“My whole life, I struggled with certain emotional battles and anxieties,” Erna said. “I always wanted to give back. I just couldn’t find my lane [until starting the foundation]. I feel like I’m a professor in these topics because I’ve lived the life.”
When Erna talks about making history at Fenway, he may also be thinking about his own legacy. The band just finished its newest album, which will be released next February by record label BMG. He said it could very well be the band’s last record. (The band won’t be debuting any songs from it at the Aug. 27 show, though.)
Finegold is thinking about his legacy, too. He hopes “617 Rocks” will become an annual event — one that will grow in size in future years and possibly encompass other nearby venues such as House of Blues or Fenway Park, with an emphasis on fund-raising.
“All we want to do with this thing is raise money through good charities,” Finegold said, “and have fun through rock and roll.”
A new door opens for Downing
After dropping his campaign for governor, Ben Downing is heading back to the energy sector, by joining The Engine. The Cambridge venture firm’s portfolio companies include Commonwealth Fusion Systems and Form Energy, but also invests in other “tough tech” companies working on hardware to tackle, as the firm says, the “most complex challenges in climate, health, computing, and more.” Last week, Downing announced he had joined the firm as its vice president of public affairs.
Before launching his bid for governor in early 2021, Downing worked for Nexamp, the Boston solar power installer, and previously represented the Berkshires in the state Senate, where he played a key role in shaping energy legislation as cochairman of the joint telecommunications and energy committee.
Since dropping out of the race in December, Downing has filled his time with networking and consulting projects. Form Energy president Ted Wiley suggested that Downing meet with Katie Rae, chief executive of The Engine. It might be helpful, Wiley said, to have someone on staff who could help The Engine’s 40-plus portfolio companies with public policy issues.
Downing was quickly sold on the idea: He said he came away from a meeting with Rae “incredibly energized and quite frankly ready to sign up and be on Katie’s team.”
The two are still figuring out exactly what the job will entail, but it will encompass public policy and government relations on the local, state, and federal levels, “to create the best possible ecosystem for our founders to grow and thrive,” Downing said.
Here’s Downing’s biggest takeaway from running for statewide office: The state’s potential has not yet been fully tapped. He hopes to change that, to some extent, with The Engine.
“Folks just think about the brilliant minds coming out of MIT, Harvard, UMass,” Downing said. “There is that talent on the invention and innovation side. There’s just as much talent in the Pittsfields, the Fall Rivers, the Haverhills, the Lowells. The home run is not just that these companies invent [technology] here. The home run for me is that we create an environment in which they grow here long term.”
Alexander set to sign off at Lasell
After two decades in TV and other media management roles, Michael Alexander finally landed his dream job: president of a small college. He started overseeing Lasell College in Newton in 2007, and has been running the place ever since. Lasell has since morphed into a university, it now has a $50 million endowment, and has grown in any number of other ways. Alexander had planned on staying on for three more years to see his plans through.
Not anymore. The college just announced Alexander will step down when the upcoming school year ends in June. His main reason for walking away: to be with his wife and daughter, who both live in Florida, as they face health issues. He concedes that the stresses of the job, including managing through a seemingly never-ending pandemic, are starting to catch up with him. He expects the school’s board of trustees will pick his successor by next March.
It’s not lost on Alexander that 16 years will be a long run for any college president. The average tenure is more like five or six years.
It should come as no surprise that what he’ll miss most about Lasell is its students — all 2,000 of them.
“The rewards are different in the corporate world,” Alexander said. “You’re trying to make those quarterly results. Here the rewards are about seeing the students grow and develop every month, every year. They change so fast, it’s amazing. You get to experience it every day.”