Peter Gammons, Theo Epstein, and Bill Janovitz
Back when “Hot Stove, Cool Music” started, eight years ago, with a little show at the Paradise Rock Club, it seemed like a nifty way to create some synergy in the off-season between the Red Sox and the local rock scene — even if the Sox themselves weren’t all that involved. Fans of the Sox and of local rock had at least one thing in common in those days: a big inferiority complex. The Sox were cursed, and Boston had a rich and storied history of local bands who seemed fated never to score that national breakthrough. The ’90s in particular were littered with promising Boston artists who’d been stopped short — and as with the Red Sox, even the successes weren’t complete. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Letters to Cleo, to name just two of more than a dozen hopefuls, had national hits, but neither managed to follow up.
Those days were brought into sharp relief last weekend at the Paradise as the eighth annual “Hot Stove, Cool Music” — a benefit for the Foundation To Be Named Later charity founded by Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and his brother Paul — took over the club. For starters, “Hot Stove, Cool Music” is now a biennial event, with a larger summer component at Fenway Park that just last year nabbed Grammy-winning soulman John Legend as a headliner. And with the Celtics off to a 29-3 start, the Pats sitting on a record-breaking 16-0 season, and two World Series trophies now ensconced on Yawkey Way, Boston is no longer the underdog. Even the music scene seems to have come around, with Aerosmith established as one of the very few respected and respectable veteran hard-rock acts, Dropkick Murphys running their own label, Godsmack celebrating a new greatest-hits disc, the Dresden Dolls still working their way up through the underground, and plenty of newcomers vying for national attention. Indeed, the two nights of shows at the Paradise, which brought Letters to Cleo frontwoman Kay Hanley and Bosstones frontman Dicky Barrett back from LA (where both are now thriving) and also featured a bevy of “Hot Stove” regulars (including Buffalo Tom frontman Bill Janovitz, Gentlemen bassist Ed Valauskas and drummer Pete Caldes, ESPN baseball guru Peter Gammons, Theo Epstein, and even former Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo), was a pleasant reminder of just how much has changed in eight years — especially when, on Sunday evening, the two World Series trophies were on display in the Paradise Lounge, the smaller room at the front of the club complex.
One weekend highlight wasn’t open to the public, though the curious could have heard most of it from outside on Comm Ave. It was the Saturday-evening dress rehearsal (for the Sunday show) of a group loosely known as the Peter Gammons All-Stars, with Gammons on guitar and vocals, his rock hero Little Feat guitarist Paul Barrere, the Valauskas/Caldes rhythm section, Bill Janovitz on guitar and vocals, Click Five guitarist Joe Guese filling in for the touring Mike Gent on guitar, Theo Epstein on guitar, and newer additions Seth Justman (of J. Geils) on keyboards and Celtics managing partner Wyc Grousbeck on harmonica. Along with rocking, bar-band versions of the Stones’ “Happy,” Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken,” and Neil Young’s “Powderfinger,” they nailed a couple of Geils tunes (“Give It to Me” and “House Party”) as well as a pair of Gammons originals including the newly penned “The Mitchell Report” (no joke). The actual Saturday-evening performances, in the club’s main room, were solid sets by the New Jersey Latin rock band deSoL, local R&B fireball Eli “Paperboy” Reed and his tight True Loves, replete with a three-man horn section, and the piano-jamming Spookie Daly Pride.
And if the Gammons All-Stars’ rehearsal was a tough act to follow Saturday night, that was doubly the case at their performance on Sunday, when they got some help from a few more special guests. First, Dicky Barrett grabbed the mic for “Give It to Me” — which is, after all, a ska tune. And then, pinch-hitting for Dear Leader’s Aaron Perrino, Corin Ashley of the Pills delivered a rousing rendition of “House Party” with Kay Hanley at his side. That should have capped off the evening, which had included a gorgeous set by Lori McKenna with Mark Erreli on guitar, Bronson Arroyo doing his best Eddie Vedder with help from a string section, and former Letters to Cleo guitarist Greg McKenna (no relation to Lori) fronting his Murder Capitol of the World. Instead, Hanley and Dear Leader were in the unenviable position of having to finish out the night. But the camaraderie that remained among the artists even as the show wore to a close was a nice reminder of why they started this Hot Stove thing in the first place.