BOSTON, Mass. — I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. When I go to a rock show I expect to see someone onstage howling like a banshee and whaling away on the rhythm guitar. I just don’t expect that someone to be Peter Gammons.
Sunday night’s “Hot Stove, Cool Music” show at the Paradise Rock Club featured not just Gammons onstage, but a slew of baseball rockers and an audience full of VIP baseball guests. It was the fourth annual event, but the first for me. I’ll admit to being star struck–the following is what I can make of my notes:
- 6:57 p.m. Arrive at Paradise Rock Club. It’s 10 or 15 degrees outside, minus the wind chill. This works to my advantage when the P.R. guy at the door gives me a press pass so that he doesn’t have to turn me back out into the cold. The VIP party in the lounge is in full swing. First thing I see when I walk into the lounge is Gammons talking to Dan Patrick. Terry Francona is also here, and Theo Epstein, and others. I need to find the coat check so that I can get rid of my parka and shake some hands.
- 7:00 p.m. Gammons takes the lounge stage with Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live to kick off the silent auction. This is Gammons’ event (along with Boston Herald beat writer Jeff Horrigan)–everybody else has a golf tournament, Gammons is fond of saying, but he wanted to have a rock concert. Gammons announces that 2003 was the “most exciting season I’ve ever seen.”
- 7:12 p.m. Having ditched my top two layers, I go take a look at the auction items. There’s an Alex Rodriguez signed bat and a bunch of other autographed stuff. There are clipboards where people can write down their bids. “See a ballgame at Fenway Park with Theo Epstein” for four people already has the opening bid of $800, and a second bidder has come over the top for $2500. Golf with Tim Wakefield at Black Rock CC for a foursome looks good, so does the Fenway Park tour and lunch with Kevin Millar. The ESPN jacket has no bidders. A-Rod wanted to be at the concert, says Gammons, but thought it would look bad. Gammons says A-Rod “wants to know what it’s like to play for these fans.”
- 7:39 p.m. I spot Bill Mueller in the corner, and ask him something I’ve been wondering for years. At Pac Bell Park they show a highlight of Mueller from the left side of the plate, cranking a home run into the upper deck (!) of Candlestick Park. The only player I can remember seeing do this is Bonds, so I ask Mueller if the highlight is real. Sure is, he says. It was off Mark Leiter and he kind of can’t believe it himself.
- 7:58 p.m. Paul Gardiner of the Jimmy Fund tells me that every dollar raised for the Jimmy Fund is matched by $9.45 in government grants for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. This seems incredible, but Gardiner sticks to his story. I buy a “Hot Stove, Cool Music” CD for 10 bucks from the lady next to me and ask Gardiner if I just generated $94.50 in cancer research funding from the government, and he says that indeed I have. The event tonight has a goal of raising $50,000.
- 8:30 p.m. The VIPs are trickling over into the main concert room now. Gammons takes the stage with Francona and Kevin Millar. Gammons, in a blue Hawaiian shirt tucked into gray pleated slacks, solicits obligatory “Yankees Suck” chant from crowd.
- 8:35 p.m. Non-baseball bands took the first few slots, but now Sandfrog, fronted by Scott Spezio (he of the recent World Series champion Anaheim Angels, now of the Seattle Mariners) hits the stage. Spezio is a bona fide headbanging grunge rocker. This is possibly the most surreal experience of my entire life, at least until later, when Gammons plays. With the Paradise amps all set on ’11,’ Sandfrog doesn’t sound half bad. Theo and Gammons, stageside, are smiling and apparently digging it.
- 8:51 p.m. I get my first glimpse of (Black) Jack McDowell, 1993 Cy Young award winner for the White Sox. He’s listed at 6’5″ by baseball-reference.com, but tonight he’s at least 6’6″ or 6’7″ because of the short Mohawk he’s wearing. Green camo shirt, short beard, Harpoon IPA in hand, nodding along to Sandfrog.
- 8:59 p.m. Dan Patrick takes the mic to reaffirm his pre-season prediction that the Patriots will win the Super Bowl, and furthermore that the Red Sox will win the World Series. He introduces McDowell as someone who “flipped off the Yankee fans, as a Yankee.” Patrick then segues into a strange anecdote: “Then Biggie Smalls includes Black Jack in a music video as if he wants to put a cap in Black Jack’s ass,” Patrick says. “And look who’s still alive!” Puzzled laughter in the crowd.
- 9:08 p.m. Black Jack and his band Stickfigure hit the stage. McDowell is out front, but I don’t much like their sound (too brooding) so I head backstage.
- 9:18 p.m. Theo Epstein is always working. I pass him in the back hallway asking Meyers, the SNL guy, to go onstage and pitch the silent auction items one more time before bidding closes. I shake hands with Gammons who, as he was when I met him once previously, is incredibly nice. Only minutes before he heads onstage, he indulges in a bit of hot stove chat, saying he was slightly surprised by the Vlad deal, and wondering who they’ll have to dump. Washburn or Ortiz for sure, he says.
- 9:36 p.m. Gammons and the Hot Stove All-Stars are up. They’re old-school rock and roll, with numbers like Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and the Blues Project’s “Wake Me, Shake Me.” Gammons is the lead singer and plays rhythm guitar–and the sound is pretty damn good, actually. Like Spezio and McDowell, he’s serious up there, a real rock star. Someone backstage says that, as encyclopedic as Gammons is about baseball, he’s equally encyclopedic about music.
- 9:56 p.m. Bill Mueller takes the stage to clarify the pronunciation of his last name. This was, without a doubt, the best way to tell a knowledgeable fan from a bandwagoner in Boston in 2003. Bronson Arroyo is called onstage, introduced as “International League Player of the Year.” At this point, comedian Mike O’Malley, another co-host of the event, says that Kevin Millar is fatter than O’Malley is, and from the looks of Millar (white thermal top with wife beater straining underneath) he’s probably right.
- 10:05 p.m. Trauser opens with a classic rock riff from lead guitarist Theo Epstein on The Who’s “The Seeker.” Second song is Pearl Jam’s “Better Man,” and third song is “Sweet Child O’ Mine”–but Theo, as nominal lead guitarist, does not play the Slash lead. (After the show Epstein says that another band member is under the delusion that he is Slash, so Theo defers to him.) Spezio, at stageside, agrees that Theo should play Slash part. Fourth and final song is Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
The show closes with Kay Hanley (formerly of Letters to Cleo and an avid baseball fan), local punk band the Dropkick Murphys, and finally a jam session of “Rock and Roll, (Parts 1 and 2).” Gammons, as he has been the entire evening, is smiling from ear to ear. Frozen on my way in, I head happily back out into the cold. Januarys are tough in New England–but next year I know I’ll have at least one cool Hot Stove event to heat things up.
Hot Stove, Cool Music is one of over 300 annual events for the Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute “Jimmy Fund.” The Fund, which has been the official charity of the Boston Red Sox since 1953, has raised over $270 million since its inception. According to the Jimmy Fund web site, cure rates for child cancers have now eclipsed the 75 percent mark. For more information, or to donate, please visit www.jimmyfund.com.
Nathan Fox is a freelance writer living in Boston. He can be reached at email@example.com.