Minutes after 4 p.m. Saturday, Richard and Demi Weitz sat next to each other facing the same computer screen as they readied, for a 10th time, to co-host “Quarantunes,” their pandemic Zoom concert series. The series started two months ago as a way to celebrate Demi’s 17th birthday with a little music and some industry friends but Richard, a partner at WME, soon realized his Rolodex could serve a new purpose during unprecedented times.
He asked performers — singers, songwriters, musicians, Broadway stars and so on — to join the events from wherever they were in the world and do a song or three for an invite-only audience. Over the course of nine shows, $2.6 million has been raised for a roster of nonprofits in need during the COVID-19 crisis, caused by the novel coronavirus. More than 100 artists said yes to joining the series, including John Legend, Sting, Barry Manilow and John Mayer, while a long list of Hollywood stars, studio chiefs, insiders and creatives looked on from their respective homes.
Richard promised Saturday’s show would be something special for Memorial Day weekend, but details were scant as they never reveal a lineup in advance. Part of the fun is tuning in to see who pops up in the Zoom box and what song they will perform during events that always take on a distinct energy. One night it was R&B hits, with another afternoon Broadway, and another was all-out nostalgia. The audience count was 800 and climbing as they were about to kick off the show but Demi said a technical glitch was causing a slight delay. The issue, it seemed, was the usual backdrop — their home kitchen complete with a refrigerator and some cabinets — looked slightly fuzzy, almost like a virtual image rather than the real thing. It was.
Before the big reveal, Richard threw it to John Williams, the legendary composer, by saying, “We all need the force to be with us right now.” A taped segment appeared first showing Williams conducting at the Hollywood Bowl and then at home in front of his piano where he played “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” from the Star Wars franchise.
Williams said: “Many of you might know that I’ve conducted at the Bowl for 40 years and I’m very sad that we won’t have concerts this year because of the COVID-19 virus but I look forward, with you, to next year 2021 when the Los Angeles Philharmonic and our beloved conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, will again have fabulous concerts and a lot of fun with great evenings at The Hollywood Bowl. I will be there next year also so be sure to bring your lightsabers with you. Meanwhile, stay safe and well and be sure the force will be with you also.”
The Hollywood Bowl announced May 13 that it was forced to cancel its entire season due to the coronavirus and days later, headlines reported layoffs and furloughs as a result of the first-ever cancelation in the nearly 100-year history. “The Hollywood Bowl is a staple for Los Angeles and it’s unbelievable that they’re closed for the first summer in 98 years,” Demi said next before she revealed the big news while dressed in a Star Wars tee promoting a Hollywood Bowl live concert event. “I would like to announce that, as you can tell our background is a little wonky, so let me take this away and say, we are at the Hollywood Bowl!”
Demi switched backdrops to reveal they were broadcasting live from the empty 17,500-seat amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood, opened exclusively for the fundraising initiative. Richard unmuted the Zoom audience which, by that point, had grown to its maximum capacity of 1000 viewers, a first for “Quarantunes” — for good cause. The father-daughter duo announced that they would be raising money for the L.A. Phil’s signature music program, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles and No Kid Hungry.
YOLA, which supports 1,400 kids and their families’ low-income communities with the gift of music, was one of the programs facing cuts due to budget shortfalls caused by the canceled season. No Kid Hungry is a nationwide organization that provides food and programs to children in need. Funds raised throughout the evening would go to support those causes, added to an overall effort that has previously supported the Saban Community Clinic, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, New York Health + Hospitals, Baby2Baby, United Way L.A. and Worldwide, CDC Foundation, Team Rubicon, Los Angeles Food Bank, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Hope Lodge of the American Cancer Society.
The Bowl wasn’t entirely empty, however. Richard then introduced L.A. Phil star Dudamel, who was positioned on the opposite end of the venue and within a stone’s throw from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, both on hand for the special event while practicing social distancing. “This is like out of Some Kind of Wonderful or something right here,” Garcetti said, making a second appearance on the series. Other high-ranking officials to appear thus far include California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and notable names like Beto O’Rourke, Board of Supervisors’ Sheila Kuehl and L.A. Phil’s Johanna Rees.
“Thank you, everybody. You have been doing such amazing work especially you, Demi. What you have built is phenomenal. All the donations from everybody in here has helped show L.A. love. I love you guys for what you have done to show the spirit of this city,” said Garcetti.
The spirit in the Zoom chat box exploded when Richard announced another special guest — music superstar Billie Eilish. At home with her shy mother Maggie hiding off camera, Eilish praised Demi and Richard for their efforts (“Aww, Demi is so cute”) before talking briefly about the vegan charity she launched with her mother during the pandemic, Support+Feed. Though she didn’t perform, her brother, Grammy winning producer Finneas O’Connell, turned out a special performance during a recent “Quarantunes” event that included her hit “Ocean Eyes,” which he wrote.
“Billie Eilish has always been ahead of her time, and she is so friggin smart,” says Mayor Garcetti of @billieeilish in surprise appearance during Richard Weitz’s Hollywood Bowl show. She shouts out vegan charity she launched w/ mom Maggie and says she’s at home cuz Mayor said so https://t.co/4uhHs5E7pi pic.twitter.com/EHvtfYUFGa
— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) May 24, 2020
Dudamel then introduced the first performance surprise, the L.A. Phil’s trumpet section standing on stage to play music “by our beloved John Williams” — the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. They were followed by passionate remarks by Hollywood Bowl acting president and chief executive officer Gail Samuel and Dudamel. He introduced YOLA alum Liliana Morales while Samuel introduced two students, Rachel and Maggie Hernandez, who performed “The Joke” by Brandi Carlile who had been set to open the Bowl season and had been working with YOLA students.
Richard could barely contain his excitement to introduce the next performer who, aside from the trumpet section, was the only act to perform on site. Kenny Loggins, who was on the Bowl’s summer schedule, drove in from Santa Barbara to play a set of his hits alongside two bandmates and assists from celebrity photographer Alex Berliner, a regular “Quarantunes” guest who jumped in to help shoot the event, and musician and sound expert Kerry Brown. “Now I can say I played the Hollywood Bowl,” Loggins commented after his performance, which included the Caddyshack theme “I’m Alright,” “Danger Zone,” “Conviction of the Heart” and “Footloose.” The latter track got a special introduction by star Kevin Bacon, also a No Kid Hungry supporter, who joined from his house to praise the song for helping to make the 1984 film the hit that it became. “The record defined ear candy,” Bacon said. “But, at the same time, I heard the song and was like, ‘Yeah, That’s cool.’ It just hits you.”
That it “hits you” is how Richard describes the feeling he got when he saw how people responded to “Quarantunes” and how Demi stepped into her mature role of rallying funds for nonprofits that have distributed funds and goods to frontline health care workers, homeless populations and hungry children and families. Six lucky nurses and hospital employees even won all-expenses-paid trips to Four Seasons Maui in Hawaii during a Mother’s Day surprise.
Countless artists have raved about their experiences, too, including Rod Stewart, Florida Georgia Line, Marcus Mumford, Luke Bryan, Randy Newman, Darius Rucker, Thomas Rhett, James Bay, Billy Ray Cyrus, Cyndi Lauper, Rufus Wainwright, John Hiatt, Boy George, Rick Astley, Ziggy Marley, Liam Payne, Hozier, Charlie Puth, Fantasia, Josh Groban, Kermit the Frog…the list goes on. Amos Lee even performed a song he wrote specifically for Richard and Demi called “The Lucky Ones.” Last Friday’s edition, which raised money for the L.A. Food Bank, featured O’Connell, Ben Platt, Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, Paul Anka, Ray Parker Jr., Brian McKnight, Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and Sister Sledge’s Kathy Sledge singing “We Are Family,” the anthem from Richard’s hometown of Philadelphia.
“Basically from the kitchen to the Bowl — this is so surreal and such a dream, thank you,” Richard said. “We got here being humble and making sure we had two philosophies: to entertain and raise money for frontline workers affected by COVID-19. We’ve done both. This is a dream I can say came true but, to be honest, who would’ve dreamt this? Definitely not me.” To Demi, he said: “I will never forget what you started seven weeks ago, having the idea to include a charity component. How far we’ve come in such a short period of time. I love you and i’m so proud of you. From the kitchen to the Bowl, oh my god!”
Because it’s Zoom, there’s always a random person who must be reminded to mute their computer and there may have been one or two technical glitches, but the shows really get going when Richard leans on his encyclopedic knowledge of music to get artists to open up about their songs while Demi drops fundraising links into the group chats. Show runner Julie Plec hit up the chat to explain why “Quarantunes” has struck such a chord. “What’s so great about this is that any network could do this and make it super polished, but we get it raw, personal, intimate and real,” she typed. “It’s such a thrill and an honor to be part of this musical extravaganza week after week. I didn’t think they could top themselves, BUT THIS TOPS IT.”
To which, radio personality Mike Muse replied: “What Julie Plec said.”
Officials had a lot to say Saturday, as well. Samuels reminded everyone that “with the Hollywood Bowl closed, the L.A. Phil is working to continue to support these 1,400 students and their families who are experiencing deep need,” in reference to YOLA. “We’ll be back, better than ever. Thanks to everyone for keeping music coming for the next generation.”
No Kid Hungry executive chair Billy Shore thanked the Weitz family for organizing an unforgettable night of music. “Tonight has been the very essence of what it means to share your strength. And everyone’s generosity will have a profound impact on the children served by No Kid Hungry and YOLA. Thanks all. Stay safe and healthy.”
The impact got a boost, once again, from Goldman Sachs Global Markets Division, which invited Wealth Management clients to participate to raise additional funds while catching a live stream. David Solomon, Goldman Sachs CEO, was on the call personally to announce that the division would contribute $200,000 for the night’s cause and the “heroic” effort. “These shows have been so impressive. Most importantly, you’ve brought people together and you’ve done such a tremendous job.”
Commercial real estate mogul Chris Renard, joined by his son, came on to announce that he would pony up $5,000 as well as 50 guitars to support YOLA, a donation inspired by his son. When it was all said and done, the night helped push the total “Quarantunes” fundraising haul to north of $3 million, a milestone that caused for another group unmuting so everyone could cheer and celebrate in unison.
Saturday proved to be yet another four-hour marathon concert. Beck performed “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime” from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and a cover of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret”; Bryan Adams turned out “Cuts Like a Knife”; Elvis Costello contributed “Alison” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”; The Killers showed up in a sleek black-and-white video with “Caution” and a Tom Petty cover of “The Waiting”; Styx star Dennis DeYoung, a return guest in a USC sweatshirt, performed “Lady,” “Come Sail Away” and “Babe”; Gloria Gaynor sang “I Will Survive”; Carlos Santana and wife Cindy performed “Black Magic Woman” and “Europa” from Hawaii; Rob Thomas followed them with a string of hits including his Santana collab “Smooth”; and Seal took time out of a house party to perform a never-heard-before original song followed by “Crazy” and “Kiss From a Rose.”
Manilow, who called the Bowl one of his favorite venues in the world, returned to “Quarantunes” to perform once again from his home, this time with “When the Good Times Come Again” (a resurgent hit during the pandemic) and the Richard-requested “Weekend in New England.” Super fan Amy Adams hit the chat to say, “Crying. Thank you.” There were appearances by Hollywood Bowl creative chair for jazz Herbie Hancock and Clive Davis, who has been a co-host of sorts throughout the series by helping book his roster of legendary artists or regaling the audience with legendary tales about his relationships and the stories behind the songs. Gavin DeGraw is one such artist who returned the favor and told a story about how he met and signed a record deal with Davis. (Richard continually praised Davis for his help throughout the series and to show his love, he even changed into a 1972 “Clive Davis Appreciation Society” T-shirt that wife Candie bought him on eBay for $500 which he paired with a Hollywood Bowl baseball hat at one point.)
DeGraw, the Nashville-based singer-songwriter, appeared at the end of the show, helping push “Quarantunes” across the finish line as Richard reminded the audience that they had a curfew of 8:15 p.m. to close out the night. By that point, the sun had set in L.A. and Richard and Demi were wrapped in blankets and using their cellphones (and later, lightsabers) as spotlights. “You’re at one of the most iconic venues on the face of the planet. It’s a dream to play on that stage,” explained DeGraw, who drew raves for his performances of “Not Over You.” “This is the most unbelievable phenomenon to watch because everybody who is on this call has been in the business for some amount of time. We’re in odd times. That a show has taken off out of this mayhem and you’ve found a way to put all of these incredible people together [is amazing]. The concept is groundbreaking but out of necessity.”
DeGraw then made way for the night’s next-to-last performer, Andy Grammer, who performed just one song — “Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah).” And the closing act? There were two: New Order and the Pet Shop Boys, who, as part of a co-headlining tour this summer, were supposed to close the Bowl season. Thanks to “Quarantunes” they did it.
More views inside yesterdays opening and closing of the Hollywood Bowl summer season with “Quarantunes” and a mask-wearing Mayor Garcetti… pic.twitter.com/rdd2s7QDXI
— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) May 24, 2020