5:11pm PT by Chris Gardner
Inside the Rock4EB! Fundraiser With Brad Pitt, Sting, Chatty Celebs and a Worthy Cause
The fourth annual Rock4EB! had all the typical ingredients of a hit backyard party, including great food (D'Amore's Pizza, Pink's Hot Dogs, Little Beach House Malibu and Sprinkles Cupcakes), an A-list guest list (Brad Pitt, Courteney Cox, Kaley Cuoco, Aaron and Sam Taylor-Johnson, Rami Malek, Cindy Crawford and Heidi Klum) and a stunning setting (the hilltop Malibu home of Brillstein Entertainment Partners' Marc Gurvitz).
It was the music and the cause, however, that elevated this Saturday afternoon event far above the average Hollywood fundraiser. Hosted this year by title sponsor Alex and Ani, the Rock4EB! event featured a relaxed and radiant Sting onstage alongside rocker Chris Cornell, and the entire package served as a benefit for the Epidermolysis Bullosa Medical Research Foundation (EBMRF). The organization, launched in 1991, is the leading funder of research for the rare and life-threatening skin disease EB, sometimes referred to as "the worst disease you've never heard of" by those in the know.
But Brillstein power manager Andrea Pett-Joseph is not one lacking intel. Her son, 12-year-old Brandon Joseph, has it, and thus, his skin is as fragile as a butterfly's wing. (The slightest touch can cause tearing, blistering and bleeding. Growth can be stunted, while limbs, including hands, may be disfigured.) Pett-Joseph and husband Paul Joseph leaned on friends, family and colleagues to launch the Rock4EB! event. This year, it opened to the media for the first time, a move designed to increase awareness and, eventually, funds for research.
"For a lot of us standing here tonight, we know what it's like to live with EB, and most of the time it sucks. Those moments of pain are overshadowed by the moments of joy, and tonight is one of those moments," Pett-Joseph said onstage, flanked by her husband and son. "To quote a sign in my office: 'Life may not be the party you hoped for, but while we are here, let’s dance.'"
There wasn't a ton of dancing, but there were laughs, as Pett-Joseph introduced the opening entertainer — Chip Baskets, aka Zach Galifianakis. "Let me be honest, I don't want to be here. This is a no-win situation for me. I do not want to open for Sting — I am not worth it," he joked, before announcing that Lee Greenwood would be filling in for Cornell. (Not true, but the crowd seemed to appreciate the inauguration tie-in and the comedian's brief stand-up routine.)
There was plenty of talking, too. Longtime advocates of the disease Cox and Cuoco were keen to help spread the word on behalf of Brandon. It was Cox (a client of Pett-Joseph's sister Cynthia) who noted the change in publicity surrounding this year's event. "They've done these events, but we've never had to take pictures or do interviews and that's great, but it's not actually spreading the word," explained Cox, who was applauded by Pett-Joseph as a steadfast supporter, integral in the event's success. "There's nothing that I wouldn't do to support and bring awareness to that kid."
Cuoco, a client of Pett-Joseph's for 15 years, said she's known Brandon his whole life. "I adore him," she gushed to The Hollywood Reporter. "Early on, I had never heard of the disease and couldn't even pronounce it, but once I found out what it is, what it does to these kids and what they have to go through, it has now become No. 1 on the priority list forever. It has to be stopped."
Speaking of cutoffs, Cuoco added that she heard the guest list had to be closed, due to a maximum amount of RSVPs. (According to party insiders, more than 600 people attended with tickets going for north of $1000.) "Why you see so many people here and all these amazing celebrities who come out is because it’s not a typical event," noted the actress, adding that the sunny Malibu day was a gift from the gods following a week of rain in the area. "There’s no red carpet, and people are here because they want to be here, and they want to help make a change and see this disease go away. When you see what it does to a child, you don’t forget it."
Prior to Sting's performance, a video reel showed a clip of a Stockton, Calif., man in his mid-30s named Paul Martinez. He's been living with EB since birth, and the footage of his daily process to wrap his blistered body in bandages likely will prove Cuoco's point — when you see what the disease does, you don't forget. As Martinez made his way to the stage, he received a standing ovation.
Also likely is that guests will remember Brandon's courage in facing down the capacity crowd and reading a poem that rhythmically told the foundation's story. "Our job is not to profit from the dollars that we raise, but to generate new funding and do good along the way," he recited. "So when you ask, 'What will my dollar do?' and, 'Is it really a big deal?' We say yes. It all adds up, and you are helping wounds to heal." ("Hamilton, you got nothing on this kid," Pett-Joseph joked after Brandon's poetic interlude.)
Then it was Sting and Cornell's turn to entertain the crowd and close out the evening. The former even brought out his eldest son, Joe Sumner, at one point. Sumner was accompanied by his own son, a 2-year-old who caught the attention of Galifianakis during his set. The comedian jokingly dubbed the tot a "heckler."
"We’re so lucky to have Sting. I met him when I was 16 years old," Cox said while introducing the legendary rocker. "Here we are, 20 years later. (Laughs.) I’m so honored. This means the world to me. Sting, I love you, thank you."
That feeling of love and family was not lost on the rest of the guests.
"I love any event at a home because it makes it feel cozy and intimate," said The A List's Ashlee Margolis. "This home is gorgeous, and this view is gorgeous. You can't beat that sunset with that backdrop. The Brillstein family is such a close agency, and everyone there loves each other. All of [Andrea's] clients and friends will do whatever it takes to rally behind Brandon and do whatever it takes for this cause."