It was as far from a rock 'n' roll venue as you could get -- a palatial room at the posh St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point. Nine hundred ballroom chairs were lined up, theater style. And a stage worthy of a Las Vegas showroom was bathed in a rainbow of spots, ready for the concert by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that would raise funds for the AIDS Services Foundation Orange County and the Laguna Art Museum.
Never in the history of either organization had an event created such a stir. Guests had come from as far away as Portugal and London.
Never mind the celebrity no-shows, including Cher, Bob Dylan, Merv Griffin, Sharon Stone and Barbra Streisand -- all touted on the invitation as guests at Art for AIDS III. "They agreed to come, but things come up," explained a foundation spokeswoman. "Pay celebrities and you have control. As volunteers, unfortunately, they do cancel out at the last minute."
Besides, Carrie Fisher, Jackson Browne, Stephen Stills, artist Billy Al Bengston and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" co-star Kyan Douglas were on hand for the Feb. 7 event. So was "dermatologist to the stars" Arnold Klein, who not only helped found Art for AIDS three years ago but whose idea it was to ask Petty, one of his stellar patients, to perform a concert in memory of Stephen Costick.
It would be one of the most meaningful concerts of his life, Petty said. Costick, who died from complications of AIDS, was his brother-in-law. "This one involves my family, and I'm glad to be able to do it. It's not a lot of trouble for a good cause," he said. "And it will help my wife work through her loss."
"He was my brother and my best friend," said Dana Petty, sitting with her Rock & Roll Hall of Famer at the $2,500-per-ticket pre-concert dinner in the resort's Motif restaurant. "He lived with the disease for a long time. It was horrible, and I'd buried all of that. Tonight is going to bring back a lot of memories."
Browne, whose well-cut suit got a rave from Douglas -- turned out they were both wearing rags from the same Italian designer -- said he was honored to support the foundation and the Laguna Beach artistic community. "It's important to help the people who deal with the problem day in, day out," he said.
Stills too felt privileged to attend. "Every one of us knows someone who has AIDS. We need to do everything we can," he said. He was personally invited by Dr. Klein, "who is treating eczema on some of my valuable fingers," he confided.
Attending a ballroom rock concert posed a sartorial challenge for the crowd, whose fashion silhouettes ranged from tight jeans to flowing dresses. Douglas chose to pair his fitted black suit with a five o'clock shadow. A trend? Indeed, he said. "I like it groomed. My neck and cheeks are shaved."