At the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles Saturday evening (March 4), Best Coast singer Beth Cosentino closed out her highly successful benefit for Planned Parenthood with the following lyrics from “When Will I Change”: “Visions of hope, visions of love/ More than before, I want them to come.”
There couldn’t have been a more apt note to end on Saturday. During Best Coast’s entire recording career, the frontwoman hasn’t shied away from opinion, consistently using her platform to speak candidly about society, the music industry and, most pertinently now, politics.
In the run up to last November’s presidential election, 30-year-old Cosentino made it clear which side of the fence she was on. “F–k Donald Trump!” she smirked Saturday. It’s no surprise the event sold-out — those in attendance were in need of safe havens like this to provide purpose and solace in the times we live in. Scoring a full house is also a winning result of months of event planning by Cosentino. Calling on the help of new artists (Side Eyes, The Regrettes, Lovely Bad Things, MUNA) and established acts (Grouplove, Veruca Salt and Liz Phair), Cosentino’s stellar lineup follows a slew of recent artist-driven fundraisers by L.A. musicians.
She’s not the first to feel compelled to take time out of her schedule to support Planned Parenthood, an organization that Trumps’ administration took steps towards defunding in January. She won’t be the last. Cosentino previously threw a Planned Parenthood benefit back in New York in 2011.
Best Coast fans had been lined around the block beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday, awaiting their chance to spend money for a good cause. There was a silent auction on one side of the room and limited edition merchandise, all proceeds for which going to Planned Parenthood. Before the first band kicked off, Cosentino spoke to Billboard about putting this all together.
“After the election I was so shocked by what had happened and thought, ‘OK how can I do something beneficial and not just Tweet?’” she says. “I wanted to have a night where we didn’t just raise money. I wanted to create a space for people to know that we all have each other’s backs. This is more important now than ever. People need to be reminded, that yes, shit’s f–ked up, but we’re here for each other. America is more different now than any time I’ve ever been alive for. If you have a platform and you’re not using it I’m confused as to why.”
Cosentino began using Planned Parenthood’s services when she was 13 years old. “I realized that I was gonna have sex and when you’re a young girl, you’re afraid to talk to your parents. A friend of mine told me I could get birth control there. Planned Parenthood made me feel comfortable with my body and sexuality.”
She continued to call upon Planned Parenthood’s services even into Best Coast’s first few years as a band. “I didn’t have insurance so I’d still go there. They helped me find pre-cancerous cells on my cervix and if it weren’t for them I don’t know what would have happened. Planned Parenthood has a special place in my heart. It’s such a slap in the face to pull funding for an organization that provides healthcare for so many.”
With the majority of dissent coming from Pro Life campaigners, Cosentino says, “Do your research and you’ll realize that the majority of procedures at Planned Parenthood are trying to prevent abortion from ever happening.”
During Saturday’s sets, Cosentino wasn’t the only one to share intimate stories. Almost all artists had a personal anecdote to share onstage. Katie Gavin of the band MUNA recalled taking a scared friend of hers to a clinic, before going for relieving breakfast burritos afters. “Planned Parenthood is such an intimate place,” she said compassionately. “Especially for people who feel that they don’t deserve to be cared for, or for people who don’t have the money to f–king afford healthcare.”
Beyond the bands, a representative from Planned Parenthood received huge cheers when taking to the stage to deliver some much needed facts. She reminded the audience that one in five women in the U.S. will visit a Planned Parenthood in their life, that Planned Parenthood doesn’t just deliver safe abortions (“for which we won’t apologize”), but also assists women with birth control, cancer screenings and STD testing, and that defunding Planned Parenthood means cutting access to healthcare for women in vulnerable communities, LGBTQ women, women on low income, racial minorities, undocumented women and immigrants.
“Our doors are gonna stay open thanks to all of you,” she said. “It’s gonna be a long four years.”
Despite the serious overtones of the evening, there was plenty fun to be had, particularly when friend of Cosentino’s Lily Hayes, a 69-year-old Instagram sensation, took to the decks to keep the crowd dancing in between sets. Backstage the bands were humbled by each other’s presence. Cosentino played host to them all night long, constantly expressing her gratitude for their time and dedication.
Halfway through the evening, she re-emerged to introduce Veruca Salt (“a major part of my adolescence”) and seemed overwhelmed by the turnout. “Oh my god, there are so many of you!” she says. Veruca Salt astounded with “The Museum Of Broken Relationships,” “Volcano Girls” and “Spiderman ’79,’” as drummer Patty Schemel sounded as muscular and vital as ever.
Local L.A. heroes Grouplove followed them by bringing down the house with a blistering cover of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” “ I feel so blessed to have Planned Parenthood in my community,” singer Hannah Hooper said. “We cannot go back in time. That is just ridiculous. Women’s rights are human rights.”
The evening’s climax came with a Best Coast set featuring old school slacker jams such as “Boyfriend,” “Goodbye” and “Sun Was High.” “I feel like I’ve already given eighty speeches,” laughed Cosentino, before uttering a few last vital words. “You guys being here tonight makes me remember that as scary as this time is it’s also awesome because look how many of you care.”
Welcoming special guest Liz Phair onto the stage and plugging her guitar in for her, Cosentino shared vocals on Phair classics “Never Said” and “F–k And Run” before Phair offered her vocal chops on Best Coast’s “When I’m With You.” “Thanks for putting your money where your mouth is and your bodies where it counts,” Phair said before leaving the stage. Cosentino, on an emotional high gushes, “Can I just say that having been able to do that in my life is so cool. You’re the coolest.”
Celebrations aside, the purpose for Saturday was clear to all in attendance. “Resist, just keep resisting,” offered Cosentino, aware that this benefit gig is only one step towards change. But it’s one step the community here is so thankful their pop-punk leader has taken.