It’s rock, Red Sox, and reunions at Hot Stove Cool Music benefit
Anyone who has been there is quick to relay a favorite memory, the “can you believe that happened?” kind of story that gets told at dinner parties.
There was that time Bronson Arroyo and Kevin Millar, both Red Sox stars at the time, got up onstage and rocked out to Pearl Jam’s “Black.” One of them was a natural; the other, not so much. Their colleague Johnny Damon was there, too, shirtless and taking dives into the crowd.
James Taylor was a guest the year torrential rains doused Fenway Park, but he insisted on playing anyway. And Theo Epstein, the former general manager of the Sox, is known for his covers of songs by Neil Young and Boston’s own Buffalo Tom, with the esteemed group’s frontman, Bill Janovitz, joining him.
Since its inception in 2000, the Hot Stove Cool Music benefit concert has been a singular event in Boston, bringing together two of the city’s cherished pastimes, baseball and music, in the name of a good cause.
On Saturday at the Paradise Rock Club, the event will mark not only its 15th anniversary, but also the distinction of raising more than $6.5 million for the Foundation to Be Named Later, the local charity cofounded by brothers Theo and Paul Epstein.
“Boston is such a baseball and rock ’n’ roll town, so the concept wasn’t as foreign as it seems,” said Peter Gammons, the Baseball Hall of Fame journalist (and former Boston Globe scribe) who started Hot Stove with a team that included then Boston Herald sportswriter Jeff Horrigan and local rock musician Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo), among others.
“It really helped to have the Red Sox get really good in 2003 and then win [the World Series] for the first time in 86 years in 2004,” Gammons added. “That really grew the brand.”
This year’s Hot Stove lineup is an eclectic mix of musicians with local ties. Al Kooper, the legendary sideman beloved for his work with the Blues Project and Bob Dylan (that’s Kooper’s iconic organ riff on “Like a Rolling Stone”), is a longtime Somerville resident. Craig Finn, who fronts the wild-eyed rock band the Hold Steady, graduated from Boston College. Tanya Donelly, formerly of the influential alt-rock bands Throwing Muses, the Breeders, and Belly, is a revered figure in the local music scene.
Saturday’s event also sees the reunions of two defunct but classic Boston rock acts: the Juliana Hatfield Three and the Cavedogs. The house band, dubbed the Hot Stove All-Stars, is indeed star-studded, including the Brookline-bred soul singer-songwriter Eli “Paperboy” Reed, along with Janovitz, Hanley, Mike Gent (the Figgs), the Gravel Pit, Will Dailey, and others.
The Epsteins partnered with Hot Stove in 2005, the year they launched the Foundation to Be Named Later, and Paul Epstein notes the bi-annual music event is the organization’s signature fund-raiser. (Before that, Hot Stove’s proceeds were donated to the Jimmy Fund.)
The money is distributed to a variety of local nonprofits — the Home for Little Wanderers, Roxbury Youthworks, City Year — that serve urban youth and their families. There’s also the Peter Gammons Scholars program, which sends students in need to college through scholarship grants.
Paul Epstein says Hot Stove hit its stride around 2005, piggybacking on the Sox’s championship success that electrified the faithful. In recent years, though, it’s gotten tougher to raise money on all things Red Sox, he said.
“Having won three [World Series] titles since 2004, each Duck Boat parade gets a little less attended,” Epstein said. “I think, as a fanbase, we’ve gotten a little bit spoiled. But I also think there has been such an explosion of sports-related fund-raising, and some fatigue is starting to happen. You have to come up with an incredibly unique experience, something that money can’t even buy.”
That’s where Hot Stove comes in. Part of the fun is how freewheeling the evening is, offering a rare collision of sports and music cultures. A few rehearsals happen, but mostly it’s all off the cuff, according to Theo Epstein.
“It’s sort of a perfect mess,” he said earlier this week from Chicago before returning to his hometown to host the event with Gammons. “There are people in various states of preparedness and inebriation, all there for the right reasons. People show up with a big heart and make it work. It has an energy and vibe all its own.”
Epstein, who left Boston in 2011 to become the Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations, oversees a sister event in that city, also known as Hot Stove Cool Music. Held in June, it’s heavy on Chicago bands, typically complemented by a convoy of Boston musicians.
Janovitz came on board for Hot Stove’s second year and has been an integral part ever since. A devoted Sox fan, he has recruited other local musicians into the fold, along with actor-comedian and Boston native Mike O’Malley, who serves as the event’s emcee.
“Part of the joy for me is bringing other people into it and seeing them experience it,” Janovitz said. “There’s always something thrilling. It’s almost like going to a family gathering. Then there were the years with Johnny Damon stage-diving without his shirt on, and Jonathan Papelbon and I singing backup for Juliana. There have definitely been some surreal moments.”
Donelly, who admits she’s not a baseball diehard, likens Hot Stove to a reunion of Boston’s music scene.
“It’s an annual excuse for us to hang out and play together, which doesn’t happen a lot now that we’re all far-flung and busy with other projects,” said Donelly, who invited Gail Greenwood, her Belly bandmate, to join her for Saturday’s performance. “It feels good to be with them.”
“And I love that it brings together baseball and music, which are two huge traditions here,” Donelly said. “I remember when I moved here from Rhode Island, that hanging out with musicians who were invested in a sports team was a real novelty for me. But then I love that connective tissue between the two.”
The overlap with athletes and musicians isn’t as surprising as you might think.
“Really different kinds of personalities are drawn to those two professions, but they do have similarities,” said Hatfield, whose performance with her Juliana Hatfield Three bandmates at the Paradise will be their first in nearly two decades (ahead of a new album and tour coming in February). “There’s a performance aspect required for both.”
Theo Epstein is modest about his own musical prowess, describing himself as a “guitar hack” who just gets up onstage emboldened by “a couple of cocktails.”
“It’s all coming together late. That’s the beauty of it,” Epstein said of his plans for Saturday. “We’ll see what happens: googling the chords on the way to the show.”