Blog: Stand Up For Heroes
With Veteran’s Day waiting in the wings and a list of celebrities that reads like a who’s who lining up to walk the red carpet, last night’s 5th Annual “Stand Up For Heroes” event emanated from the historic Beacon Theatre. Presented by the New York Comedy Festival and The Bob Woodruff foundation, the evening served as a formal fundraiser of sorts, focused on providing resources and support to service members and their families so that they can be reintegrated back into their communities and so that their physical and psychological needs are appropriately cared for. While the big names participating may have filled the venue, on this night the raucous applause and standing ovations were reserved for the dozens of returning soldiers- some visibly wounded, some emotionally- with an emphasis on the preciousness of life.
Beginning at 7pm the walk down red carpet kicked off. Although the night was star-studded, most that walked were there for support rather than participating in the show itself. In a nice touch, most of the celebrities actually walked the carpet arm-in-arm with one of the soldiers being honored. News personalities George Stephanopolis (with actress Ali Wentworth), Geraldo Rivera, and Diane Sawyer joined television personalities like Glenn Close, Chris Meloni, Rachel Ray, Gayle King, & Kathy Griffin for the preshow walk. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters spent a considerable amount of time schmoozing with General Martin Dempsey among some of the soldiers, while the evening’s performers- comedians’ Jim Gaffigan and Ricky Gervais patiently smiled in the midst of thousands of paparazzo flashes.
With the evening set to begin, the house band for the evening, “The Max Weinberg Big Band” featuring the E Street Band drummer and a full horn section, took their positions on stage. The show opened with in incredible performance of the national anthem and an original number by recording artists, and former soldiers “4Troops.” Shortly thereafter former President of the United States, Bill Clinton emerged as the surprise of the evening, sincerely praising hosts’ Bob & Lee Woodruff for their remarkable efforts in building up their foundation. Briefly dabbing his foot in the comedy waters, the President was roundly welcomed, and his jokes were well received. Balancing out the political spectrum, former President George W. Bush sent in a taped video message played before the live audience, extolling the bravery and work of the heroes being honored on this night.
The emcees, Mr. & Mrs. Woodruff, did a nice job keeping the show moving, effectively balancing some subtle jabs at each other with the gravity of the situation at hand and the recognition of the serious trauma that these soldiers endure once their days on the battlefield have subsided. In fact, it’s been estimated that 18 veterans take their own lives every single day. Particularly touching was a video tribute paid to some of the wounded as well as a live testimonial from US Marine Corps First Lieutenant Andrew Kinard, who lost both of his legs in an IED attack overseas. He spoke of his role as a leader, the responsibility he felt to his men, and the utter relief he felt, knowing he had been the most injured of his platoon. But just about a month earlier, another injured soldier who had served underneath him had taken his own life. The account was gripping and emotional, but served as a reminder to the wounded in attendance- “At least, I’m still alive.”
With the emotion briefly set aside, the soldiers were ready to be entertained and the lineup for the 5th Annual Event was stacked. Ricky Gervais, Jim Gaffigan, and “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart provided the comedic stylings for the evening, with each doing about 15 minutes of material. And among the stars performing on this night, it was perhaps Gaffigan’s affinity for McDonald’s and evident distaste for working out, whose shone brightest, or at least seemed to resonate most with the live crowd.
The comedians then gave way for the musical act as Bruce Springsteen humbly made his way out to the stage. Outfitted with a short haircut and plaid checked shirt, ‘The Boss’ rallied the crowd, opening with the fast paced “Open All Night,” which paired with the horns and backed by Weinberg was an ode to the honky tonk style rock of the 1950’s. He then launched into 1973’s “Spirit in the Night” before shunning the backing band for a particularly stirring solo, acoustic rendition of “Land of Hope and Dreams”- his voice as grizzled, but melodic as ever, playing harmonica and guitar simultaneously with an energy that seemed to awaken the capacity crowd who had been listening to spoken words for much of the previous hour. Springsteen would even jump offstage, running up and down the aisles, hugging many of his fans, before laying down on top of a lucky few in the back of the orchestra section.
To close out the show, out came NBC “Rock Center” anchor Brian Williams and “Saturday Night Live’s” Seth Myers to encourage the fat-walleted audience to loosen their purse strings a bit and bid on Springsteen’s just-used guitar. Auctioneer Jamie Niven from Sotheby’s was out again to lend a hand. Earlier in the evening Niven had successfully wrestled an amazing $284,000 in audience donations (some donating as much as $50,000 a piece!), and he was now prodding the crowd to dig even deeper. Springsteen, in the heat of the moment upped the ante by agreeing to also contribute his harmonica and yes, even the shirt he was wearing to the auction, which netted an additional $160,000 alone. This on top of an event with ticket prices as high as $1,000 per seat proved that this year’s “Stand Up For Heroes” was certainly not for the frugal. With almost a half million dollars being raised over the course of the two and a half hour benefit, it’s infinitely clear that the people in attendance recognize the grave situation that our soldiers face and support their reintegration when they return home. The next step is spreading the word to everyone else.
For more information on making donations, how you can help, or to learn more about the Bob Woodruff Foundation, check out remind.org.
- Jane Van Arsdale