With a little help from his friends, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea raised more than $1 million Sept. 29 for the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, the Los Angeles music school he co-founded in 2001.
The intimate event attended by around 300 people, including Brad Pitt, was emceed by comedian Marc Maron and held in the parking lot of the school’s new home on Hollywood Blvd. The evening featured performances by Lindsey Buckingham, k.d. lang, and RHCP, as well as a silent auction with artwork and photographs by David Hockney, Ed Ruscha, Shepard Fairey, Cecily Brown and a host of other artists. People opened up their wallets throughout the evening — at one point an industry executive told Billboard that he had placed cumulative bids of more than $500,000 on art.
The musical line-up, all artists who have been affiliated with Warner Bros. Records, came to pay homage to the evening’s honoree, the beloved, legendary former WB Records chairman, Mo Ostin. The 91-year old Ostin has been a supporter of the school, which gives lessons to more than 800 kids annually, since it opened.
Buckingham, who embarks on a solo tour Oct. 7, noted “when Flea called me and asked if I’d do this, I didn’t hesitate a bit” because he was eager to champion the cause and praise Ostin for celebrating the music, not just the bottom line. He recalled how Fleetwood Mac originally signed with Warner Bros. in the late ‘60s, several years before he and Stevie Nicks joined in 1975. “I don’t believe the band was really turning much of a profit, if any, for Warner Bros. at that time, yet Mo, in his wisdom, in his vision, with his heart and his soul, felt there was something going on here that might well lead to something…if he allowed the band to ferment…he did that. 1975 came along, Stevie and I joined and, well, you know what happened. That kind of opportunity, that kind of happy accident exists far less in the music business today. Yes, it’s a comment on the business as well, but it’s more a comment on the man who has heart, who has vision, integrity, who loves music and loves to see it get to as many people as possible in the right way. I can honestly say that without Mo Ostin, I would not be standing up here tonight.”
Buckingham opened with “Shut Us Down,” from his 2006 solo album, Under the Skin, before he delivered three Fleetwood Mac songs, “Trouble,” “Never Going Back Again,” and “Big Love.”
In a taped piece, the members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers talked about how even though they had decided to sign with another label in 1991 after leaving EMI, Ostin’s gentlemanly congratulatory call caused them to change their minds and sign with Warner Bros., where they remain to this day. Flea recalled their inaugural visit to Ostin’s stately home, which came complete with a butler. “The first thing I did was strip down naked and jump in his pool,” Flea laughed.
As he accepted his award, a sculpture of an owl by Thomas Houseago, Ostin joked that as touched as he was to be the evening’s honoree he “tries my very best never to be honored. When I am asked, I almost always pass, and trust me, at my age, you really hate to use the word pass.
“I am standing here tonight because I have learned there is no event quite like this one and, more importantly, there is no place anywhere quite like the Silverlake Conservatory.” He then told the story of how Flea, after realizing that school arts programs were being cut, including at his alma mater, Los Angeles’ Fairfax High School, was inspired “to be part of changing this ridiculous situation….My life and working with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Jimi Hendrix has given me a front row seat to see how music can change the world for the better…Yet all too often short-side politicians and bureaucrats have made the terrible decision that music education is some expendable frill. That is why we are all so fortunate that concerned citizens like Flea, Anthony and their partners created this institution. In a world where many things are wrong, the Silverlake Conservatory of Music is a place that is doing something very important in bringing music to our lives and the lives of our children and grand children, so thank God to Flea and everybody at the Silverlake Conservatory of Music.”
Lang, who followed Ostin, often wandered into the audience during her sublime set that included “Still Thrives This Love,” “Don’t Smoke in Bed,” “You Will Walk in Good Company,” and concluded with her magnificent rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” that held the audience spellbound.
Red Hot Chili Peppers closed the night with a rambunctious performance that opened with a cover of Allman Brothers Band’s “Ramblin’ Man” (in honor of Warner Bros. once distributing Capricorn Records) and closed with Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” with a slew of their own tunes, among them “Dark Necessities,” “I Like Dirt,” “By the Way,” and “Under the Bridge,” inbetween.
Among the industry executives in attendance were former and current Warner Bros. Records execs Lenny Waronker, Jeff Ayeroff, Tom Corson and Aaron Bay-Schuck; artist managers Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch (who have managed RCHP since 1999), Ian Montone and John Silva; attorneys Eric Greenspan (who has represented the Peppers for 35 years) and Craig Marshall; Azoff MSG Entertainment’s Susan Genco, WME’s Marc Geiger, Kobalt’s Willard Ahdritz, UMPG’s Marc Cimino, producer Peter Asher and A&M co-founder Jerry Moss.