How Do You Selll Relief?

Charity begins at Homestead

Let's put it this way: One recent weekend night dozens of top musicians gathered to perform an extravagant benefit concert to help victims of Hurricane Andrew. And Gloria Estefan failed to show up! She let everyone down, she doesn't really care, she is, by all evidence, not going to single-handedly turn South Florida into the New Utopia. What a bitch.

I don't have a problem with the selling of Andrew -- what else could one possibly expect in 1992 America? No problem either with anyone doing something to get any help to every one of South Dade's destructed citizens. I've experienced Tent City in the swelter of a Miami afternoon. But I do have problems, not the least of which is seeing Gloria Estefan more often than I see my wife.

Admittedly, celebrities face a dilemma: If they ignore, say, the star-studded benefit at Joe Robbie Stadium two weeks ago, they're labeled apathetic, uncaring. If they partake, the peg is publicity hound. Either way the label is unfair. But this celeb biz can get mighty complicated. Despite broadcast reports to the contrary, Whoopi Goldberg does have, or at least had, a connection to this community: her father worked anonymously in a VA hospital here, a fact Ms. Goldberg worked hard to conceal. Nobody ever read or heard about the old man, but his daughter shows up for a quickie at Joe Robbie and she's our savior. And what was Val Kilmer, best known for playing Jim Morrison in an Oliver Stone movie, doing feasting on the fondue of cheesy publicity? This famous-name feeding frenzy may have appeared a juicy opportunity for many, but that notion backfired at least once: Weatherman Bryan Norcross received his standing O, but poor Rick Sanchez was literally booed off the stage. Says one backstage observer: "Rick was really broken up. He'd been waiting all week for this, he was even introduced by Andy Garcia, and he couldn't get a word out." Now there's a first.

There were, to be sure, some remarkable moments at the Robbie concert, especially back where the press dogs were chained. The ancient rock band Asia strutted in and announced they were ready to be interviewed. Nobody moved. Ruben Blades, whose leftist politics have made him a pariah in this town, took the same stage as Willie Colon, although they stood as far apart from each other as Castro and Reagan. A TV correspondent in Homestead announced on the air that we were watching a simulcast of Jim Croce on-stage. Jim Croce? Now that's what I call volunteerism. And speaking of being on the same stage: There was Andy Garcia, bravely attempting to play the bongos while in the company of Tito Puente, Ruben Blades, Nestor Torres, and other musicians for whom Garcia is barely qualified to be a roadie.

Despite all glitches, though, the Robbie concert was big news. The TV stations led with it; Channel 7 devoted almost an entire hour to the concert. The Herald's Leonard Pitts, Jr., wrote two reviews of the event. To him, the show was cathartic, absolute salvation in the face of the ol' devastatin' aftermath thang. "The essential truth of Saturday night's show," Pitts wrote, "was that after four bleak weeks in the shadow of Andrew, the communities of South Florida desperately needed a big, stomp-on-the-floor, wake-up-the-neighbors blowout bash. They got one." Actually 53,000 -- probably few of them among the hardest-hurt victims of Andrew -- out of several million got one.

Not that I have any sympathy for anyone who wanted great and disparate music in exchange for tossing a few bucks to The Cause. The night after Gloria came out of the dark, a much smoother, much-much-much more entertaining and worthwhile concert was presented in an effort to raise dough for the neighbors we ignored until their houses got obliterated by a storm. A fully amazing line-up of talent (organized by Noel Tavio and WVUM-FM in conjunction with Washington Square and Stephen Talkhouse) played hard for seven or eight highly enjoyable hours -- and no one lip-synched.

On that Gloria-forsaken Sunday a few dozen people showed up and paid ten bucks each for a grand total of $745, all of which went to We Will Rebuild via Sun Bank and the other banks that are matching the first two million dollars raised. A drop in the bucket, as the cliche goes, but a much better bargain for music lovers. And while Julio Iglesias was being bowed to for flying across the Atlantic to perform at Joe Robbie, nobody in the media took notice of Jay Walsh volunteering to play first at the Talkhouse -- to a crowd of about eight. He didn't kvetch, which is why he isn't famous.

Or at least world famous -- you surely remember Walsh's work with the legendary band Coral Gables. And if you had made it to the Talkhouse that night, you could have heard his new work: the instant-classic "She Don't Know Me" and others bolstered by a backing band consisting of Doug Leibinger (bass), Mike Steigman (drums), and Tony Luschen (trumpet) from the megaband F.O.C.

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