Hot Stove charity concert swings for fences with rock, baseball

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Tom Morello

Tom Morello performs during the 2014 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Jeff Kravitz, FilmMagic / May 3, 2014)

Local H frontman Scott Lucas and former Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin had never played together before last summer's Hot Stove Cool Music fundraiser, yet there they were again early this month performing their own soundtrack to Sergei Eisenstein's landmark 1925 silent film "Battleship Potemkin" at the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival.

A little cross-pollination can go a long way, particularly when you merge the worlds of music, baseball and charity.

The date and lineup for Chicago's third annual Hot Stove Cool Music concert are being announced Tuesday with even more emphasis on finding new lineups on the city's deep musical bench. Imported from Boston by Cubs President Theo Epstein and scheduled for June 20 at the Wrigleyville club Metro, the show will feature an "all-star" lineup including returning players Chamberlin and Lucas as well as Rage Against the Machine/Bruce Springsteen guitarist Tom Morello, Wilco/The Autumn Defense bassist John Stirratt, Urge Overkill guitarist/bassist Eddie "King" Roeser, Shoes singer/guitarist Gary Klebe, the Ponys frontman Jered Gummere, Tributosaurus singer (and The Score 670-AM sports-talk co-host) Matt Spiegel and other veteran local musicians (Gerald Dowd, Phil Angotti, Jennifer Hall, Curt Morrison, Jon Paul, Max Crawford ...).

You can expect Epstein, a big Pearl Jam fan, to strap on his guitar as well, and Cubs TV play-by-play announcer Len Kasper will be playing bass, primarily on the power-pop tunes that are in his wheelhouse, he said. Sports writer (and guitarist) Peter Gammons co-founded the Hot Stove event in Boston in 2000, and Epstein got involved upon becoming the Boston Red Sox's general manager in late 2002. After the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, Epstein said, he and his twin brother, Paul Epstein, established the Foundation To Be Named Later as a way to channel enthusiasm for the team into support for children and families in need.

"The original thought, and the thought that has sustained it from my perspective, was if there are people who have resources, who are that passionate about baseball and music, then you can put together an event in which you could transfer some of that wealth to nonprofits that really need it," Theo Epstein said.

The Hot Stove events still take place each January in Boston, and since the Cubs hired Epstein in fall 2011, Chicago has hosted a summer version, which includes the show and, the following afternoon, the Urban Baseball Classic game between Boston and Chicago youth teams.

The two cities' concerts are somewhat different animals: Taking place in the offseason, the Boston one attracts more players and has more of a "family reunion" feel, Epstein said. He recalled one year in which then-Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon removed his shirt onstage, auctioned it to an audience member for charity and then dove into the crowd.

"I can't approve of this," Epstein said, "but it sure makes this a hell of an event."

Smashing Pumpkins headlined the inaugural Chicago Hot Stove concert in 2012, and Poi Dog Pondering filled that bill last year. But the 2013 show also featured Epstein, Gammons and Kasper playing with local musicians, billed as the Hot Stove All Stars, and they played so long that Poi Dog didn't hit the stage till about 11 p.m.

"The All Stars took a bigger chunk of the night," Metro owner Joe Shanahan recalled, "and we said, 'Next year, let's just do this. This is the meat of the matter. This could be totally great.'"

Kasper, who has played a key role in lining up Chicago musicians for the local event, agreed, saying that although having a headlining band is cool, making the show about one-of-a-kind interactions is even cooler.

"It's not just show up and see a band," the Cubs announcer said. "It's show up and see musicians play great tunes that they otherwise would never play and would never even conceptualize."

It helps that so many musicians were keen to perform at a charity event at one of the city's premier rock clubs, which, like everyone else, is donating its services.

"I didn't talk to anybody who wasn't interested," Kasper said. "The only people who couldn't come were busy. Buddy Guy is on the road. (REO Speedwagon singer) Kevin Cronin is on the road."

As for the Libertyville-raised Morello, Kasper said: "He's really into the whole baseball-meets-rock thing. He's touring with Springsteen now, so it's not like he doesn't have other things to do, but this was something he really wanted to do.

"Once we began to see some of the names that were coming into play, we were, like, we don't need a headliner," Shanahan said. "This is a headliner."

So the June concert will feature the rotating band of All Stars, with the evening's theme to be songs by Chicago artists.

"If you like music, it's a hell of a jam session, and if you like sports, there's always a lot of baseball people there, and it's for a good cause," Epstein said. A foundation spokeswoman said Hot Stove has raised about $6.5 million for charities since 2000, including more than $400,000 at the two Chicago events. The organizations to be supported this year include the Chicago Children's Choir, the Jackie Robinson West and Garfield Park Little Leagues, Special Olympics Chicago and Girls in the Game.

The Hot Stove approach is in sync with a larger musical trend, as the Grammy Awards and assorted rock festival sets have been emphasizing surprising collaborations and stage-sharing spontaneity over rote playlists. It's all about who plays what with whom and the magical moments that might follow. Metro hosted another successful group-effort fundraiser last month, Petty Fest, which featured Brendan Benson, Jakob Dylan, Kelly Hogan, Alison Mosshart, Butch Walker, Stirratt and others in a concert that supported the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.

For the musicians, the fun part is getting to play with peers they may know only by reputation. Chicago may appear from the outside to be a tight music scene, but Lucas said the chances for interaction are less frequent than he'd prefer.

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