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Tom Petty: Finding the Fans (Hampton Social Review)

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  • August 30, 2007
    Tom Petty: Finding the Fans (Hampton Social Review)
    By Kate Maier from the East Hampton Star

    (08/31/2007) Perhaps the biggest difference between the Hamptons Social concert series at the Ross School in East Hampton and a straight rock concert was the relative amount of ease experienced by die-hard fans on a mission to wrestle their way into the front row.

    Martini glasses, Jimmy Choo sandals, and Fendi bags replaced beer bottles, steel-toed boots, and backpacks during Tom Petty's only live performance so far this year, the final concert in a five-part series of benefits organized by Bulldog Entertainment at Ross this summer. In exchange for using the school grounds for the concerts, the company made a donation of an undisclosed amount to the Steven J. Ross scholarship fund, rumored to be somewhere in the area of $1 million.

    According to Lizzie Grubman, whose eponymous public relations firm handled the events, with approximately 1,600 guests, Tom Petty's was the best attended of the five shows, which also featured Prince, Dave Matthews, Billy Joel, and James Taylor. Ms. Grubman said in a phone interview yesterday that the series was a tremendous success, and plans are already in the works to pull off a similar stunt next year.

    Clad in a mustard-colored, long-sleeve shirt, comfortable-looking black pants, and a red-velvet and paisley vest, Mr. Petty, backed as usual by the Heartbreakers, rocked the crowd with the same polish and precision that fans have become accustomed to over his 31-year tenure on the rock 'n' roll scene. His set list, mostly of tunes from 1994's wildly popular solo album, "Wildflowers," did not include a single track off this year's "Highway Companion."

    In the front row, where a cubic foot of personal space was the norm among concert-goers who ranged from celebrities, including Renee Zellweger, who ostensibly paid full price for their tickets, to a former Bulldog Entertainment employee who had managed to sneak in, a smattering of apparently crazed fans showed their true colors. "I touched his shoe," squealed Patti Nishamura, hopping up and down with excitement as she turned to share this information with whoever would listen. Ms. Nishamura, a stout middle-aged woman wearing glasses, a navy blue paisley shirt, and sequin-studded stone-washed shorts, admitted she had seen Mr. Petty 27 times during last year's Highway Companion tour, and had flown in from Chicago and booked a hotel room to attend the last leg of the Hamptons Social.

    She was vaguely aware of the gourmet food tent, magic tricks, open bar, and numerous opportunities for celebrity sightings, but her single-minded purpose was more than clear. "He's not touring this year, that's why we're here," she explained. "I pay big money to get to the front row all the time, but never this much," she added, admitting that she had shelled out the full ticket price of $3,000 for the show before arching her back and screaming "I'm just gonna die" as Mr. Petty launched into "Don't Come Around Here no More." Ms. Nishamura estimated that $700 was the most she had paid for a Tom Petty ticket prior to Saturday's concert.

    None of the fans interviewed at the show had paid the $15,000 to attend the entire concert series, although a few had seen more than one show. "This is a great idea, we loved this environment," said Ivan Barron, a real estate developer from New Jersey who came out to see Dave Matthews and Tom Petty with his wife, Robin.

    The couple said they were impressed with the gourmet food, prepared by the executive chef Tom Colicchio, and by the unique and relaxed atmosphere. Their only regret was that they did not have the time this summer to see all five concerts. Mr. Petty played it straight at this show, his set list a smattering of favorites including "American Girl," "Don't Come Around Here No More," and "I Won't Back Down," with a few more obscure selections including an encore performance cover of Them's 1965 "Mystic Eyes," where Mr. Petty sported his signature Rickenbacker guitar.

    One of Mr. Petty's most celebrated rockabilly covers, Chuck Berry's 1964 hit "You Never Can Tell," was also a crowd pleaser. After more than 30 years together, the Heartbreakers could probably pump out these tunes in their sleep - the well-dressed group of men are all business on stage, operating like the parts of a well-oiled machine.

    As for Mr. Petty, the 56-year-old rocker is looking well for his age - his bearded face even seemed a bit more rounded on this occasion, a hair less sallow than his trademark faÁade. Mr. Petty has no qualms about turning his backside toward the crowd and seductively shaking his rump either, and more than one fan remarked that they were "sure" he had paused mid-set to turn and take a covert hit of marijuana between songs. At one point, he did take a casual stroll behind the drum kit and emerge more playfully for his next number, shadow-boxing his way toward the microphone. "I was hoping we'd have a rowdy crowd tonight," he exclaimed after wrapping up his second song, "Mary Jane's Last Dance." In comparison to other Hamptons Social concerts, he may have gotten his wish.

    By 9:30, one middle-aged woman had fainted, causing a mild disturbance before center stage. A few feet away, Bill Schwanewede, of Tern Drive in Montauk, exuberantly danced his way through the entire show, wearing a straw cowboy hat and a red and black shirt bearing a Pop Art-inspired print of Elvis Presley. "This guy, he could play f-n 'Chopsticks' for two hours and it'd be amazing," he said, adding, "For somebody who seems so dead, he's so alive."

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the chain link fence dividing the concert-goers from the wooded area on the outskirts of the football field, a few small groups of less fortunate music-lovers enjoyed the set as much as they might have if they'd paid $70 for a cheap seat at an amphitheater show. Richard Jordan, a serious Tom Petty fan and aspiring journalist from Bay Shore, made the journey through the woods to report on the scene, regrettably wearing a pair of shorts on his adventure.

    "I shucked clams at the Billy Joel concert, and scoped out the woods then," said the leader of a better-prepared group of shaggy-haired 20-somethings, who brought along a cooler, lawn chairs, and appropriate shoes. These came in handy for the home stretch, which involved an off-the-beaten-path trek of about 200 yards through scrub oak and brambles before reaching the edge of the fence.

    The sound quality was great and the stage was visible, and for the small assembly of local people who had made their way there, it was worth it, even after concert security, waving flashlights and making menacing remarks about trespassing, drove them farther into the woods. There was one minor police-related disturbance, when a group of four people "claimed their grandfather owned the property" and refused to leave the fence line. According to a police report, they later conceded. East Hampton Town Police Chief Todd Sarris said this was "an isolated incident" and the only recorded disturbance for all five shows.

    For Mr. Jordan, who suffered a suspicious rash over his torso the next day and said he was covered in "thousands, maybe millions" of ticks when he examined himself back in Bay Shore, the show was probably worth it. He's seen Tom Petty on numerous occasions before, and will see him again - if Mr. Petty chooses to put on more shows within his price range. "I don't even care about the rash," said Mr. Jordan, "but if I got Lyme disease this was not worth it."

    According to Ms. Grubman, more than a few locals did see some benefit from the shows, although she said she was not aware of any disturbances in the woods. For five magical nights, the Ross School grounds were transformed into "a little town," employing about 800 people to work the event. "We actually brought jobs to the local people, which when you think about it is pretty amazing," Ms. Grubman said.
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webcrew's picture
on Thu, 2007-08-30 17:00
By Kate Maier from the East Hampton Star

(08/31/2007) Perhaps the biggest difference between the Hamptons Social concert series at the Ross School in East Hampton and a straight rock concert was the relative amount of ease experienced by die-hard fans on a mission to wrestle their way into the front row.

Martini glasses, Jimmy Choo sandals, and Fendi bags replaced beer bottles, steel-toed boots, and backpacks during Tom Petty's only live performance so far this year, the final concert in a five-part series of benefits organized by Bulldog Entertainment at Ross this summer. In exchange for using the school grounds for the concerts, the company made a donation of an undisclosed amount to the Steven J. Ross scholarship fund, rumored to be somewhere in the area of $1 million.

According to Lizzie Grubman, whose eponymous public relations firm handled the events, with approximately 1,600 guests, Tom Petty's was the best attended of the five shows, which also featured Prince, Dave Matthews, Billy Joel, and James Taylor. Ms. Grubman said in a phone interview yesterday that the series was a tremendous success, and plans are already in the works to pull off a similar stunt next year.

Clad in a mustard-colored, long-sleeve shirt, comfortable-looking black pants, and a red-velvet and paisley vest, Mr. Petty, backed as usual by the Heartbreakers, rocked the crowd with the same polish and precision that fans have become accustomed to over his 31-year tenure on the rock 'n' roll scene. His set list, mostly of tunes from 1994's wildly popular solo album, "Wildflowers," did not include a single track off this year's "Highway Companion."

In the front row, where a cubic foot of personal space was the norm among concert-goers who ranged from celebrities, including Renee Zellweger, who ostensibly paid full price for their tickets, to a former Bulldog Entertainment employee who had managed to sneak in, a smattering of apparently crazed fans showed their true colors. "I touched his shoe," squealed Patti Nishamura, hopping up and down with excitement as she turned to share this information with whoever would listen. Ms. Nishamura, a stout middle-aged woman wearing glasses, a navy blue paisley shirt, and sequin-studded stone-washed shorts, admitted she had seen Mr. Petty 27 times during last year's Highway Companion tour, and had flown in from Chicago and booked a hotel room to attend the last leg of the Hamptons Social.

She was vaguely aware of the gourmet food tent, magic tricks, open bar, and numerous opportunities for celebrity sightings, but her single-minded purpose was more than clear. "He's not touring this year, that's why we're here," she explained. "I pay big money to get to the front row all the time, but never this much," she added, admitting that she had shelled out the full ticket price of $3,000 for the show before arching her back and screaming "I'm just gonna die" as Mr. Petty launched into "Don't Come Around Here no More." Ms. Nishamura estimated that $700 was the most she had paid for a Tom Petty ticket prior to Saturday's concert.

None of the fans interviewed at the show had paid the $15,000 to attend the entire concert series, although a few had seen more than one show. "This is a great idea, we loved this environment," said Ivan Barron, a real estate developer from New Jersey who came out to see Dave Matthews and Tom Petty with his wife, Robin.

The couple said they were impressed with the gourmet food, prepared by the executive chef Tom Colicchio, and by the unique and relaxed atmosphere. Their only regret was that they did not have the time this summer to see all five concerts. Mr. Petty played it straight at this show, his set list a smattering of favorites including "American Girl," "Don't Come Around Here No More," and "I Won't Back Down," with a few more obscure selections including an encore performance cover of Them's 1965 "Mystic Eyes," where Mr. Petty sported his signature Rickenbacker guitar.

One of Mr. Petty's most celebrated rockabilly covers, Chuck Berry's 1964 hit "You Never Can Tell," was also a crowd pleaser. After more than 30 years together, the Heartbreakers could probably pump out these tunes in their sleep - the well-dressed group of men are all business on stage, operating like the parts of a well-oiled machine.

As for Mr. Petty, the 56-year-old rocker is looking well for his age - his bearded face even seemed a bit more rounded on this occasion, a hair less sallow than his trademark faÁade. Mr. Petty has no qualms about turning his backside toward the crowd and seductively shaking his rump either, and more than one fan remarked that they were "sure" he had paused mid-set to turn and take a covert hit of marijuana between songs. At one point, he did take a casual stroll behind the drum kit and emerge more playfully for his next number, shadow-boxing his way toward the microphone. "I was hoping we'd have a rowdy crowd tonight," he exclaimed after wrapping up his second song, "Mary Jane's Last Dance." In comparison to other Hamptons Social concerts, he may have gotten his wish.

By 9:30, one middle-aged woman had fainted, causing a mild disturbance before center stage. A few feet away, Bill Schwanewede, of Tern Drive in Montauk, exuberantly danced his way through the entire show, wearing a straw cowboy hat and a red and black shirt bearing a Pop Art-inspired print of Elvis Presley. "This guy, he could play f-n 'Chopsticks' for two hours and it'd be amazing," he said, adding, "For somebody who seems so dead, he's so alive."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the chain link fence dividing the concert-goers from the wooded area on the outskirts of the football field, a few small groups of less fortunate music-lovers enjoyed the set as much as they might have if they'd paid $70 for a cheap seat at an amphitheater show. Richard Jordan, a serious Tom Petty fan and aspiring journalist from Bay Shore, made the journey through the woods to report on the scene, regrettably wearing a pair of shorts on his adventure.

"I shucked clams at the Billy Joel concert, and scoped out the woods then," said the leader of a better-prepared group of shaggy-haired 20-somethings, who brought along a cooler, lawn chairs, and appropriate shoes. These came in handy for the home stretch, which involved an off-the-beaten-path trek of about 200 yards through scrub oak and brambles before reaching the edge of the fence.

The sound quality was great and the stage was visible, and for the small assembly of local people who had made their way there, it was worth it, even after concert security, waving flashlights and making menacing remarks about trespassing, drove them farther into the woods. There was one minor police-related disturbance, when a group of four people "claimed their grandfather owned the property" and refused to leave the fence line. According to a police report, they later conceded. East Hampton Town Police Chief Todd Sarris said this was "an isolated incident" and the only recorded disturbance for all five shows.

For Mr. Jordan, who suffered a suspicious rash over his torso the next day and said he was covered in "thousands, maybe millions" of ticks when he examined himself back in Bay Shore, the show was probably worth it. He's seen Tom Petty on numerous occasions before, and will see him again - if Mr. Petty chooses to put on more shows within his price range. "I don't even care about the rash," said Mr. Jordan, "but if I got Lyme disease this was not worth it."

According to Ms. Grubman, more than a few locals did see some benefit from the shows, although she said she was not aware of any disturbances in the woods. For five magical nights, the Ross School grounds were transformed into "a little town," employing about 800 people to work the event. "We actually brought jobs to the local people, which when you think about it is pretty amazing," Ms. Grubman said.