Six weeks ago with the coronavirus shutdown already in full effect, WME partner Richard Weitz celebrated his daughter Demi’s 17th birthday with a virtual party with guests including LL Cool J.
The event proved so popular, Weitz and his daughter knew they were on to something and turned their Zoom party, dubbed RWQuarantunes, into a nationwide invite-only weekly event with a charitable tie in for COVID-19 relief.
Each subsequent edition has drawn more entertainment industry insiders and big name performers — including Josh Groban, John Mayer, Rick Springfield, Boy George, Michael Bolton and Fantasia — to what has become Friday night’s hottest ticket and the feel-good event of the week.
For last night’s (May 8) pandemic party, Weitz and his daughter turned their sights on Nashville with the CDC Foundation, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Hope Lodge of the American Cancer Society as beneficiaries. By the time the Zoom party closed a daunting five-and-a-half hours after its 7 p.m. CT start, the event had raised more than $375,000, taking the five-week tally to a staggering $2 million plus. An incredulous Demi exclaimed, “The theme for tonight is dreams. I dreamed we would raise $10,000 when we started.”
Weitz opened the Zoom fest, which drew more than 900 attendees, by giving props to Nashville-based manager Ken Levitan, who helped get the ball rolling for the Music City Edition. Among those tuning in were managers Clarence Spalding, Joel Hoffner, Ty Stiklorius and Chris Parr, legendary music exec Clive Davis and Nashville Mayor John Cooper, who addressed the attendees. (Past editions have included Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.)
The evening included performances by Marc Cohn, Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker, Jeffrey Osborne, Michael McDonald, Valerie Simpson, Shawn Colvin, The War & Treaty, Johnny Gill, Ryan Tedder, Yola, Jake Owen, Rita Wilson and Dan Wilson, many of whom stayed on throughout the event to mingle and praise their colleagues’ performances. The event was indisputably live, with occasional technical glitches, delays and people forgetting to turn off their mics, but that’s what made it so human at a time when everyone is seeking connection.
Among the most memorable moments:
The stories behind the songs: Many of the performers told the backstories behind creating their most famous hits, including Cohn on “Walking in Memphis,” McDonald with “Takin’ It to the Streets,” Tedder on “I Live,” Dan Wilson on “Closing Time,” and Rucker on “Let Her Cry,” which was inspired by the Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels” and originally written for Bonnie Raitt.
Geeking out: Often after an act finished, another artist would unmute and chime in to praise the performance or just shower some love, including McDonald, who famously recorded Ashford & Simpson’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Or sometimes, they offered an observation. After Dan Wilson showed how many of his songs are based on the same chord progressions as “The Christmas Song” and “Bali Hai,” including Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” Jimmy Jam excitedly asked about the major seventh chord Wilson uses, and suggested that Weitz plan a special songwriter edition of RWQuarantunes. Jam also shouted out to McDonald, recalling the duet between McDonald and Chaka Khan he produced on her 2008 Grammy-winning project Funk This. “When all this ends, I’ve got to get in a room with you at some point,” Jam said. Similarly, Rucker good-naturedly chided Tedder, asking him why he’d been eluding him. Tedder answered, “I gave you my number during the Bush administration!” before adding that he was writing a lot of country songs right now. The two made plans to discuss further.
Star-making performances: In an evening full of notable performances, two relative newcomers stole the show and made connections that will serve them long past the evening, given the high-powered executives watching on Zoom. The War & Treaty’s Michael and Tanya Trotter literally had jaws dropping during their stirring performance of “Long Dark Road,” which garnered them an opening slot on a Rucker show in the future. Yola’s gorgeous “Far Away Look” left Davis “knocked out.” He added, “Right now, when hip-hop is dominating, we’ve all got to make sure that voices like yours, in the tradition of Aretha and the tradition of Whitney, have got to be heard.”
The personal stories: One of most moving moments of the night occurred when Osborne, who had performed at last week’s event, talked emotionally about the death of his manager of 39 years, Jack Nelson, from COVID-19 days earlier. “He passed a week ago,” Osborne said. “He fought hard, but he couldn’t fight through the battle.” Though clearly in mourning, Osborne wanted to return Friday night in part because the evening was raising money for Vanderbilt’s medical center, which is where his manager had received care.
Nashville really is Music City: While there was a smattering of country music during the evening, including Bryan, Rucker and Jake Owen, the event really showed the breadth of Nashville’s music talent, including Lauren Patton, star of Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill, who performed a passionate “You Oughta Know,” as well as McDonald, Yola and War & Treaty.