By Matt Spiegel–
(CBS) Hot Stove Cool Music Boston 2016 is in the books. What a weekend it was.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and his twin brother, Paul, give back through baseball and music with their Foundation To Be Named Later, which raises funds and awareness for non-profit agencies serving urban youth and families. It’s wonderful work, clearly nourishing the givers as much as the recipients, the pitchers and the catchers. Playing any role in these events makes you feel a part of the battery.
Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons along with Jeff Horrigan started the Hot Stove Cool Music concert in 2000, with a slew of all-star rock-and-rollers. In 2005, it became the centerpiece fundraising event for the FTBNL.
The legendary Paradise rock club was filled with people who love songs and ballgames. These are worlds I live to help collide.
The like-minded, living in the baseball and music nexus, were brought together in Boston 16 years ago. Every January and now June in Chicago, the overlapping section of the Venn diagram widens.
At its center this past weekend was Gammons, who played guitar and sang as he has from the start. The inventor of the Sunday Notes baseball column knows early rock and soul with an historian’s curiosity and is always a top target for conversation. We talked Hall of Fame voting at the Thursday rehearsal. He was pleased that Cheap Trick got in and hoped Tim Raines would next year.
Len Kasper and I, a play-by-play man and a sports talk show host, are equally passionate about bass playing and singing. The six-song Chicago All-Stars set was plotted over months of texts and emails, with a roster slowly filled by dependable high-quality players. Len then crafted a running order that might rival the 2016 Cubs — so solid and well-structured, the leadoff spot through the sixth spot.
This weekend the overlappers also included:
— The organist at Fenway Park, Josh Kantor, who plays with Peter Buck in The Baseball Project among many bands. He also just bought the ballpark organ used for decades by Nancy Faust of the White Sox, and this weekend it was delivered via road trip by three Chicago musicians who all love baseball. They stopped in Cooperstown at the Hall of Fame, got a VIP backstage tour and were officially “proclamated” by the mayor of Cooperstown. You can’t make this stuff up, people. Find details and movies of their journey by searching #GreatAmericanOrganTransplant.
— The four-time World Series-winning Yankee center fielder, Bernie Williams, who plays legit, highly skilled jazz guitar. He composes, makes records and played a blistering opening set at the Paradise with a pick-up band of Boston rockers who worked hard to keep up. Bernie, who still holds the all-time postseason record for runs batted in with 80, also happily jammed on Rolling Stones tunes at the Friday VIP concert, and he played congas for the entire Chicago All-Stars set Saturday. Every live cover of The Cars or The Ramones should have a multiple Gold Glove Award-winner on it.
— The pitcher who has won 145 games, Bronson Arroyo, who plays guitar and sings in the vein of his one-time hero and current friend, Eddie Vedder. Bronson answered a backstage question about his glove being slapped by Alex Rodriguez in the 2004 ALCS, then went on with rhythm guitarist Theo and riled up the crowd with their version of “Porch.”
— The wife of an active Red Sox legend, Tiffany Ortiz, who sang backup for Gammons along with her two children. It’s no surprise that the “Little Papis” have wonderful smiles. Tiffany told us how musical their daughter is, how she had been hoping to join us for rehearsal.
— The trumpet player and horn section leader, Max Crawford, who also runs the scoreboard at Wrigley Field. He’s doing that job in Mesa this March and dreams of a Hot Stove Cool Music, Spring Training. I’m in.
— The 2004 Red Sox champ lefty, Lenny DiNardo, who carried on Bob Dylan conversations deep into the after-party. These days, he coaches aspiring big leaguers and plays guitar every day. He joined us for Driver 8 in Friday’s REM set and hustled on stage Friday for Willie and the Hand Jive with Gammons.
— The 2004 NL Cy Young Award winner, Jake Peavy, who brought his band of country music pros to the gig in a tour bus and closed the night. In the green room, Peavy asked Cubs people about his new teammate with the Giants, Jeff Samardzija. I wonder if the Shark could add some banjo.
— The weekend’s emcee, actor Joel Murray, looking resplendent in his Cubs warm-up jacket as he shared Saturday duties with Sean Casey of the MLB Network.
— The drummer from Cheap Trick, Daxx Nielsen, who wore a Blackhawks shirt in the style of the CT logo to rehearsal. Daxx absolutely killed J. Geils, The Who, and some song called “Surrender” in our Saturday set. In the green room, I tried to console him about the Bears losing Adam Gase as a coach to the Dolphins.
The pro musicians are the spine of these concerts. There were thousands of emails, material learned studiously all over the country and hours of rehearsals the days before the shows. There was an Almost Famous moment at the hotel, when you could hear songs being learned in multiple rooms. You got to get it right, you can’t let a teammate down.
And then on stage, they brought the goods. Playing hard, respectfully, fervently, passionately, with just the right amount of rock and roll “F You.” You got to give the crowd what they deserve.
This year, the spine included our fearless leader Ed Valauskas, Mike Gent of The Figgs, Scott Lucas of Local H, Tanya Donnelly of Belly/The Breeders/Throwing Muses, Jenny Dee, Freda Love Smith of The Blake Babies/Mysteries Of Life, Gail Greenwood of L-7, the great Jon Wurster of Superchunk/Bob Mould/Best Show with Tom Scharpling, Curt Morrison of Tributosaurus (whose favorite player was Jose Cardenal), Gerald Dowd of Robbie Fulks/Justin Roberts, Jennifer Trynin, the reunited legendary Boston band Gigolo Aunts, Tom Polce, Phil Aiken, Dean Falcone and so many more.
This experience is so multi-layered. There’s charity at its heart, baseball in its veins and music in its soul. The weekends get better every time, with connections multiplying, and the emotions running deeper.
These are our people. I’m grateful to have found them. Maybe they’re yours as well.
See you at the Metro in June.
Matt Spiegel is a host on the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays. Follow him on Twitter@MattSpiegel670.