“It can go off the rails at times in the best possible way.”
“Some glorious moments can occur, along with the occasional train wreck.”
“Barely controlled chaos!© That’s the patented HSCM battle cry.”
It’s one thing for Q Division studio manager/utility player Ed Valauskas, Poi Dog Pondering guitarist Dag Juhlin, and Letters To Cleo singer Kay Hanley (who specifically added her own copyright notice) to all describe Hot Stove Cool Music in similar terms. It’s another for all of them to uniformly embrace the way that the annual charity concert — which puts past and present players from Boston’s music scene and its baseball team on the same stage to raise funds for local underprivileged youth and families — routinely tap dances on the verge of catastrophe, from gleefully mangled songs to (on at least one occasion) actual blood being drawn.
To hear Peter Gammons tell it, that was part of Hot Stove right from the start. “When we started in 2000, we had no idea what we were doing,” says the legendary baseball writer, who helped found the event. “We had a band from New York called Carlton Fisk and a band from Boston called Thurman Munson. Actually, it was the last time that Thurman Munson ever played in public, because they had a fight in the dressing room and never got together again.”
Nowadays, Hot Stove is more likely to cement bonds than to shatter them, with some performers and ballplayers, as well as emcee Mike O’Malley, returning year after year to bash out some rock ’n’ roll on the Paradise stage. With Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder headlining the roster, this year’s lineup includes Hot Stove veterans like Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz, Belly’s Tanya Donelly and Gail Greenwood, Jen Trynin and Will Dailey, among others.
Valauskas likens it to a family reunion, a sentiment echoed by current Los Angeles resident Hanley, who says, “How convenient that I can find [my friends and family] in the same place once a year!”
The family is set to expand a little more, with this year’s concert (moved to Saturday from its traditional winter slot to coincide with the Boston-vs.-Chicago series at Fenway Park) billed as the “Red Sox/Cubs Edition.” When Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein — whose Foundation To Be Named Later is Hot Stove’s primary beneficiary — left for Chicago in 2011 to become team president and end the Cubs’ World Series drought as he had with Boston’s, he brought Hot Stove with him. “I consider Boston and Chicago both home at this point, having had a son in each city,” he says, “so personally I’m really happy we’ve been able to make it work in both cities.”
While the Chicago version has its own local emphasis (with last year’s show featuring Vedder and Liz Phair and hosted by Joel Murray of “Mad Men”), Hot Stove retains its characteristic flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants vibe, no matter where it is. Juhlin describes an event two years ago when Vedder came onstage with the intent of simply saying a few words and wishing someone a happy birthday, not performing. The band had other ideas, launching into Bruce Springsteen’s “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).”
“Eddie stopped and turned around and looked at us, a little bug-eyed, like, Wait, what? You’re playing this?,” says Juhlin. “And sure enough, he bounded back up and sang that with us. Did he blow a verse? It’s not for me to say, even though the answer is yes, but holy smokes, did it not matter one bit. It was a total rock triumph. I know that he and I were probably the two biggest Who fans at that party, so before the final chord of ‘Rosalita’ had a chance to ring out, we launched into ‘I Can’t Explain.’ Eddie looked over and nodded and then we blew the place up.”
Part of the high-wire act also comes from the inclusion of people more accustomed to practicing their trade in a baseball stadium than on a small club stage. Some have experience, to be sure — ex-Yankee Bernie Williams (confirmed for this year’s bill) is a Grammy-nominated guitarist, and previous participants like Bronson Arroyo, Scott Spiezio, and Scott Radinsky already have their own bands — but even simply enthusiastic amateurs like Kevin Youkilis have always been welcome in the past. According to Hanley, stage fright is never an issue. “Everyone wants to be a rock star,” she says. “Zero arm twisting involved.”
While the collision of the two worlds might seem to be solely the product of its founders’ specific twin passions, Gammons insists that hometown pride provides the connecting thread, calling Boston “a baseball/music city.” Hanley concurs: “You’d be shocked at the level of baseball love and knowledge that pervades the Boston music scene.”
It’s hard to escape the idea of loyalty when talking to people about Hot Stove. “Tom Menino [Boston’s late former mayor] used to always comment and say to me, ‘Hey, thanks for loving our city,’ ” says Gammons. “And I think that’s part of it. There’s a real sense of our commitment to the city of Boston and the people of the city and the underprivileged of the city, and trying to keep up with people who get often left behind.”
And as evidenced by the number of annual returnees, plenty of loyalty gets directed back at the event itself, more than enough to sustain it for years to come. “The joke is that Hot Stove wouldn’t die at this point even if we tried to kill it,” Epstein says. “There are too many people who have too good a time putting the show together.” To say nothing of watching it fall apart.
HOT STOVE COOL MUSIC 2017: Red Sox/Cubs Edition
At the Paradise, April 29 at 8:30 p.m.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org