A Star-Crossed Benefit Ends in Empty Ballroom

Times Staff Writer

The festival was to be Burbank's version of "We Are The World," another music industry extravaganza to help starving Africans.

The Burbank City Council endorsed the idea on April 16, voting to allow use of its 6,500-seat Starlight Amphitheatre for three days of shows in which big-name entertainers were supposed to draw sellout crowds and raise $1 million. There were going to be records and videos of the concerts, and one of those behind-the-scenes documentaries telling how the "You and Me Because We Care" festival came about.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way.

An Empty Dance Floor

By Friday night, when the million-dollar event had been scheduled to crank up at the vast amphitheater, the show had been moved to the Stardust Ballroom, a one-time skating rink in Hollywood.

There the main promoter, 28-year-old Michael Evans Boyd, found himself standing in the middle of an empty dance floor waiting for the start of a concert that was five hours behind schedule. He was waiting not for big-name performers, but amateur acts.

Members of Boyd's staff, their guests and some of the performers sat at tables scattered around the dimly lit ballroom. Few others were there as the camera crews prepared to record the event for history.

When the show ended Friday night, the box office counted just three paying customers.

Shunned by Burbank

The festival had been moved because Burbank officials decided at the last moment that they wanted no part of it. A $30,000 bond had never been posted, health permits had never been obtained and arrangements to control traffic had never been made.

In addition, when city officials announced last week that they were revoking permission to use the Starlight Amphitheatre, they disclosed that the festival had not achieved the 2,000-ticket advance sale that the promoters had claimed. In fact, a total of nine tickets had been sold.

The last-minute move to the Stardust Ballroom did not help any.

Friday night's three-paying-customer concert was followed by a Saturday show that would do even worse.

Even then, Boyd insisted, "This is still going to make money."

By their own admission, the promoters were inexperienced.

At the helm of the "You and Me Because We Care" production was Boyd, a struggling performer who uses the stage name Mike Majik and specializes in an impersonation of Sam Cooke, the 1950s rhythm and blues singer. His partners included a private investigator, a one-time pool-cleaning systems salesman and a computer equipment dealer.

Another producer's entertainment experience consisted of serving as an assistant director on an unreleased low-budget youth comedy called "Casting Party."

According to Boyd, it all began late last year when he saw a televised World Vision International plea for funds to help starving Africans. He said tears streamed down his face as he gazed at the bony, disease-ridden bodies.

"It hit me so hard and so drastic," he said. "I decided on New Year's that if Jesus Christ gave me the opportunity, I would start the 'You and Me' crusade."

The stoutly built Boyd often sprinkles his conversations with references to God and Jesus Christ and said he hopes eventually to pursue a career as a minister. As an entertainer, he said, his credits include a role as an extra in the latest Richard Pryor movie, "Brewster's Millions," and a tour performing "A Tribute to Sam Cooke" with an eight-piece band.

"That got me into Vegas," he said, "where I was in the show 'Legends In Concert,' " a revue at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas starring impersonators of dead celebrities and rock stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and John Lennon.

'Not the Sam Cooke Look'

When he spoke with Burbank officials, Boyd cited his stint in the show as one of his most significant recent accomplishments.

Lynette Little, public relations spokeswoman for the Imperial Palace, said Boyd was with the show for a week. "He had the Sam Cooke sound, but not the Sam Cooke look," she said. "He was built like a fireplug. He did not give our audiences the Sam Cooke feel we wanted."

Boyd began proposing his festival in January. And he was encouraged by reports of the celebrated "We Are The World" recording session in late February, in which many well-known singers, led by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, made a record and a video recording to help African relief efforts.

"I thought about the Starlight Amphitheatre," Boyd said. "Burbank was just sitting here with this great theater that wasn't in use."

The open-air theater is nestled in the hills above Burbank and is owned by the city. Spectators can sit on benches and at a lawn area in the rear.

Boyd eventually recruited the support of Burbank's Parks and Recreation Department. Dan La Brado, city recreation services director, said he had heard Boyd sing at several department ceremonies, such as tree plantings, and was impressed by his commitment to the famine-stricken Africans.

"He approached us then with this tremendous idea, and that started the wheels rolling," La Brado said during the early planning stages of the festival. "I think they will be able to comply with all aspects of production, sound, lighting, providing faithful certificates of insurance and financial stability."

Boyd named himself executive producer of the "You and Me Because We Care" production company. He enlisted A. Michael Pascal, a 46-year-old Hollywood private investigator, as director of operations. Pascal, by his own admission, has minimal knowledge of rock music.

Madonna, U2 Promised

Another producer was Thor Anderson, 37, a former pool-cleaning systems salesman who uses the name Jack Daniels. Anderson said his experience included starting Rock magazine in 1981, having been the associate publisher of High Times magazine and assisting promoters at various rock concerts.

John Kissonas, the "Casting Party" assistant director who joined the group, said Boyd first portrayed the benefit as a grass-roots, one-day show featuring local artists and church choirs. But when he started negotiations to use the amphitheatre, Boyd told Parks and Recreation Director Rich Inga that he could get artists such as Madonna and U2 to perform.

"They told us from the very beginning that they could produce top names," Inga said. "We did not insist on having big names, but we told them that we wanted the concerts to be as successful as possible, and that they would have to get those names in order to be successful."

The promoters soon outlined a production in which ticket sales would bring in up to $1 million. The proceeds, minus "administrative costs," would be given to the Burbank chapter of the American Red Cross, which would then channel the funds to its national headquarters for its African famine relief program.

Record Set, Video Documentary

A three-record set and a video documentary of the event would bring in more money for the charity, promoters said.

A memo submitted to city officials said artists "not confirmed, but still talking positive" about participating in a three-day festival included Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Missing Persons, Bob Dylan, Donna Summer, Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne, Al Green and the Everly Brothers.

Tickets were priced at $25 for lawn seating, $50 for reserved seating and $100 for reserved box seating.

"I know the prices are high," Boyd said, "but look at what we're doing. People go to $100 shows and wear boots that cost $1,000, man. The average person in Los Angeles has two cars. We have a tomorrow, but the people in Africa don't have a tomorrow. It's time to put up or shut up. Do we care or don't we?"

$225,000 Overhead

But not all of the money would be going to Africa. Pascal and Boyd said they planned using ticket sales to pay off an estimated overhead of $225,000, including salaries for the organizers--they were to receive $1,000 a week, other staff members $750 a week, for work on the concert from February to May.

Inga, the parks official, said he never received anything more than "a proposed budget, which kept changing" from the group. But he felt that Boyd was sincere in his determination to help African famine relief, and recommended to the Burbank City Council that it authorize use of the amphitheater.

On April 16 the council approved the use of the Starlight for the weekend starting the night of May 3. One night would feature country music, the next rock and the third would have a six-hour soul and gospel concert.

Boyd announced that he had signed up the Ink Spots, 1960s groups such as the Chambers Brothers and Jan and Dean, and actresses Danielle Brisebois and Mabel King. But most of the acts proposed were local amateur talent.

Postponement Announced

Tickets went on sale at Ticketmaster outlets three days later.

But three days before the first concert was to take place, the promoters announced that they were postponing the events for two weeks, and that ticket prices were being lowered. They now would be $20 to $60.

Boyd complained that Burbank officials had not authorized use of the Starlight quickly enough and that there had not been enough time to properly promote the concerts. He also said "a deluge of celebrities" had phoned him offering their services if the concert was postponed. He declined to name them, however.

A week later, there was another press conference on the Starlight stage. Pascal announced that about 1,000 tickets had been sold, adding: "We decided to change the focus, and not go after the really big names. Right now, it's a group of local people who are trying to do something to help the starving people of Africa."

Chambers Brothers on Hand

Attending the press conference were members of the most prominent act agreeing to play, the Chambers Brothers. Also there was Angelyne, a blonde, buxom singer who brought and autographed posters of herself wearing pink hot pants and a pink, low-cut halter top.

The performers impatiently paced the stage waiting for television crews to arrive, but none did. After an hour Boyd gathered the artists for a singing of "I Believe In Music," while a staff member videotaped the scene for the documentary.

About that time, Kissonas concluded that the festival was doomed because the original intentions were being distorted by greed and ego. He said he was worried about "astronomical" phone bills run up in an office the group used in Hollywood.

"Too many people are in it for their egos and for money," the assistant producer said. "The thing has just gotten all twisted around, and no one knows. There are these folks who started promising too many things that couldn't be produced, offering to pay for expenses for these stars, putting them up in hotels, renting limousines. All a lot of people on this staff wanted to do was make a paycheck."

Boyd insisted that the festival would come off when people realized "we're having fun in the name of helping somebody, not for personal glory."

The next press conference, however, was called by Burbank officials. On Tuesday, they reported that only nine tickets had been sold for the 6,500-seat theater. And they announced that because the promoters had posted no bond for the festival, the city was withdrawing from the project.

Boyd, who is black, accused city officials of racism.

The final move to salvage the festival was as disorganized and as confusing as the previous months. On Wednesday, Boyd announced that although he hoped to revive the concerts over the summer, they were canceled for the time being. "It's over," he said.

But, unknown to Boyd, his staff signed an agreement with the management of the Stardust Ballroom, which can accommodate 1,500 spectators. Ticket prices were reduced to $10.

"Too many people had gotten geared up for this, and really wanted to play," Boyd explained before the concert Friday. "They didn't want to wait another two months."

Now 20% of the proceeds were to go to the Stardust management, 40% to the production company for expenses and 40% to the Red Cross.

"And if we wind up making only 15 cents for the Red Cross, that's 15 more cents than they had," Boyd said.

Festival T-Shirts

That evening Boyd was the most formally dressed person in the place. He wore an orange-striped tie and muted orange suit with orange bell-bottom pants that almost covered his shoes.

Others wore festival T-shirts, with the words "You and Me" over a green map of Africa, and below "Because We Care." Pascal, the private detective, joked that they would become collector's items.

It became, in the end, a party. The amateur musicians who signed up performed with enthusiasm to the near-empty ballroom. The staff members watched the show, laughing and clapping jubilantly as the performers acted as if they were in front of 5,000 screaming fans.

No Surprises

Up to the last moment, the promoters told reporters that there would be some surprises at Saturday night's rock concert. Mick Jagger was going to pop in, they said. So was Rick Springfield.

But Saturday night's concert was little different than Friday night's. Paid attendance, however, was down.

Boyd said there were "one or two" paying customers.

Some staff members estimated that the operation may have lost as much as $200,000 on expenses, including equipment rentals, printing costs, promotions and office supplies.

Boyd, however, preferred talking about the cameras that his staff kept pointed at the stage. "This is still going to make money," he said. "We're going to make a video out of this, and take it to cable. This is not a loss.

"We'll make the costs back," Boyd promised. "This fight ain't over. It's just begun."

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