By Drew Olson Special to Published Jan 12, 2010 at 4:26 PM

A wise person once told me that all pro athletes want to be rock stars and all rock stars want to be pro athletes.

So, where does that leave the humble journalist?

Truth be told, it would take most of us a nanosecond to trade jobs (not to mention paychecks, groupies and other accoutrements) with an athlete or a rock star. Lacking the genetic and creative necessities to make that swap, we happily settle for the alternative: watching great performances from either the press box or a seat in the center of the seventh row.

Being an observer -- a proverbial "fly on the wall" -- at a special event is a privilege that reporters should never take for granted. I was reminded of that last weekend in Boston, where I attended the 10th anniversary of Hot Stove Cool Music, the annual charity event staged by two of my baseball-writing buddies, Jeff Horrigan and Peter Gammons, and a group of their friends.

If you've followed baseball at any point in the past two or three decades, well, then you already know all about about Gammons. He's a Hall of Fame writer (Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated) and a trailblazing TV analyst (ESPN and currently the MLB Network). He's also one the smartest, classiest and most passionate and people I've encountered. (Click here to see what his co-workers said about him when he left ESPN to go to a competitor.)

I don't purport to know Gammons as well as others in the sports industry do. Though he's incredibly generous with his time, particularly with young writers, the Brewers were pretty low on the baseball food chain during my tenure as a beat hack so I didn't want to take up too much of time in Peter's busy schedule.

From talking to him over the years, I know that three of his favorite things are baseball, music and the city of Boston. With help from Horrigan and others, he has combined those interests with the "rock and jock" event every January for the past decade. By gathering talented musicians and jamming with the "Gammons All-Stars," he has raised roughly $3 million for worthy causes.

Horrigan, a former Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox beat writer, grew up in Boston and now lives in the Milwaukee area and works for a local marketing company. While may not be as famous as his co-founder, they share some of the same traits.

Imagine that you need to move a sofa from one house to another on a cold Saturday in January. When you call some friends to ask for help, they'll often respond with the expected questions:

"How big is it?"

"Is it a sleeper?"

"How long will it take?"

"Can't you find someone else?"

"Can we do it another day?"

If you call Horrigan with a similar query, well, you better be ready for a completely different line of questioning:

"What time do you need me there?"

"Do you want me to bring pizza or beer?"

"I know a couple guys who are big weightlifters. Should I see if they can help?"

That attitude is pretty much the essence of Hot Stove Cool Music. For the first four or five years of the show's existence, Horrigan told me how cool the event was and tried to convince me to visit. Three years ago, I took him up on his offer along with our mutual friend, Kevin Brandt, known to many as "K.B.," the wise-cracking sidekick on the "Dave and Carole Morning Show" on WKLH and occasional blogger.

Horrigan asked us to help out as guitar techs/stagehands and acted like we were doing him a favor. We paid our own airfare and he set us up with an awesome deal on a room at the Hotel Commonwealth, an incredible property overlooking Fenway Park. Over the course of two memorable nights we "worked" backstage and in the wings at a venerable rock venue known as The Paradise.

We watched incredible music, mingled with interesting people and quickly realized that Jeff really wasn't interested in our guitar-tuning, amplifier rolling skills. He just wanted us, his Milwaukee buddies, to share in the wonderful vibe that his Boston friends had created around Hot Stove Cool Music.

Last weekend, three years after our initial visit, we returned to Boston along with Brian Murphy. "Murf," who works as Pat McCurdy's manager, wanted to experience the Hot Stove Cool Music atmosphere that he'd heard us rave about.

Here is an account of our experience:

4 p.m. -- We originally planned on leaving for Boston shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday night, but the forecast called for a winter storm on Thursday. When the airline sent an e-mail advising travelers to move their flights back a day -- without financial penalty -- K.B. wonders if we should take them up on it.

"If they bang our flight on Thursday night and the Friday flights are full, we're gonna be screwed," he says.

My instinct is to go for it, but I cave.

We end up sliding our itinerary back 12 hours.

10 p.m. -- For once, the weather men were right. It does snow. A lot. But, our original flight would have gotten us to Boston. Basically, we choked/panicked. Instead of enjoying chowder and pints of Guinness, I spend Thursday night working and shoveling snow. By the time I pack and crawl into bed, it's nearly 2 a.m. Murf is picking me up at 5.

5 a.m. -- There are still some flurries falling as we head to the airport, but the roads are generally clear and traffic is light. Murf and I are heading in one car and KB and Horrigan, who live less than a mile apart, are driving in to meet us at the airport. We're halfway to the airport when I get a call from KB, who has misplaced his wallet and doesn't have the necessary ID to get on the plane.

"I'm going to check my office," he says. "If it's not there, I might be stuck at home."

It's not there. KB drops Horrigan off at the airport and leaves to look for his wallet and a later flight. "If I don't find it, I'll have to go the the DMV and get a new one," he says.

6:30 a.m. -- After discovering his wallet (which had been hiding in his office), KB reports that he is booked on a 2 p.m. flight. He expects to meet us at the hotel at around 6:30 p.m.

10:45 a.m. -- As our plane approaches Logan International, the pilot mentions that there has been an incident at the airport. It seems a Delta connector was ready for takeoff and had to be evacuated. The other runways were shut down temporarily, so we were forced to circle for about 20 minutes.

Given the attempted bombing of a plane near Detroit on Christmas Day, the first thought we had was "Uh-oh." Things got pretty quiet on the plane and remained eerily quiet after we landed and saw emergency vehicles around.

It turned out that the Delta plane was barreling down the runway for takeoff when the cabin filled with smoke as a result of de-icing fluid that found its way to an inlet.

11 a.m. -- Rather than ponying up $30 for a cab, we take a train into town. We catch a free shuttle bus to the "T" line, then pay $2 apiece for the trip to the hotel, which is located in Kenmore Square. The train adds to my notion that Boston is a very European city. People walk and take trains, which is what happens when traffic is brutal and parking is ghastly expensive.

11:35 a.m. -- We emerge from the train station, turn right and realize that the Hotel Commonwealth, 500 Commonwealth Ave., is about 50 yards away. I turn to Horrigan and ask, "Couldn't you get us any closer?" The canopy in front of the hotel features an overhead heater that automatically turns on when you walk on the red carpet. It's a nice touch on a brisk morning.

11:40 a.m. -- The Hotel Commonwealth is five-story boutique hotel that combines old-school charm of Milwaukee's venerable Pfister with modern amenities like free wi-fi, 24-hour room service, a fitness center. Our room overlooks the Mass. Pike and is a fungo away from Fenway Park and the House of Blues, which will be the venue for the concert. The restaurant / bar, The Eastern Standard, adjacent to the hotel, is a popular, upscale spot the afterwork and pre-game crowd.

12:15 p.m. -- After stashing our bags in our room, Murf and I head out to find some lunch near Fenway. Horrigan has to work on some concert logistics and procure our tickets for the evening entertainment -- a college hockey game between Boston College and Boston University at Fenway.

12:30 p.m. -- We stroll toward Fenway and stop at Boston Beer Works, 61 Brookline Ave., one of several bars around the famous ballpark, for a sandwich. Though it's not much different than your typical "we make our own beer" pub, the food is good and the prices -- by Boston standards -- are low. They brew a blueberry beer and put real blueberries in the glass or pitcher. How can you not like that?

1:15 p.m. -- Murf wants to explore around the Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market area, but I've made that trip several times during my baseball-writing days, so I opt for a workout and a nap. I know Saturday will be a long day. Murf returns, raving about the skewer of bacon-wrapped scallops he found ($8) and the salami he bought at the market.

6 p.m. -- We head to The Eastern Standard to grab a drink and wait for KB. The place is packed with happy hour clients and scads of hockey fans eating and drinking before the game. We meet up with Michael Creamer, a veteran music manager and organizer of Hot Stove Cool Music. Horrigan's phone is buzzing with last-minute text messages from participants who need another hotel room or more names on the guest list. I ask Creamer if athletes or musicians are more "high maintenance." His answer: they're about the same.

7 p.m. -- KB's plane has landed and he's heading in from the airport. Unfortunately, his cab is stuck in traffic near the hotel. Once he arrives, after some spirited ribbing, we join the throng walking toward Fenway. It seems strange heading down Yawkey Way with snow lining the sidewalk. The night is bitter cold, but Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, whose Foundation To Be Named Later is the primary beneficiary of Hot Stove Cool Music, has left us tickets for in his luxury box. I can't say that I'd attend the game if we were sitting outside. We enter to find Ben Cherington, the assistant GM, and several of his friends. The view is spectacular. The game is exciting. The beer is free. Best of all, we're inside. Cherington, regarded as a rising star in the baseball industry, is thoughtful and very laid-back -- much like his guitar-strumming boss, who is attending a rehearsal with Gammons' band. Though I hate to let "work" intrude in situations like this, I do chat with Cherington about the offseason and the Brewers, whom he holds in very high regard, and new Red Sox players Mike Cameron and Bill Hall. If the trip ended with the game and a day of sightseeing, we could have called it a success. But, we're just getting started.

10:30 p.m. -- Gammons' band, which includes Buffalo Tom front man Bill Janovitz, Mike Gent from the Figgs and other Boston music stalwarts like Ed Valauskas, Pete Caldes, Phil Aiken, Paul Ahlstrand and J. Geils Band keyboardist Seth Justman, has finished rehearsals and is heading to a bar called The Independent, 75 Union Square, which is located in the Cambridge/Somerville area. We pile into Creamer's minivan and fight the post-game traffic to join them. Mike O'Malley, the actor/comedian who serves as emcee for Hot Stove Cool Music, is around and so is Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, a Cincinnati native who can hardly wait for his beloved Bengals to host the Jets in the playoffs. As the beer and conversation flows, I think about all the Boston fans who would give a weeks' pay to hang with this group. That's why people will pay $40 a pop to attend the show tomorrow night at the House of Blues in the shadow of Fenway.

12:30 a.m. -- It's been a long day, so we cab back to Hotel Commonwealth, grab a nightcap at the Eastern Standard and call it a night.

11:15 a.m. -- Our group wasn't ready for breakfast, so we sleep in and venture across the street to U-Burger, 636 Beacon St. It's a locally-owned operation modeled after burger giants Five Guys and In-N-Out Burger. The meat is ground fresh on site. The fries and onion rings are hand cut and battered on site. We were among the first customers in the door. As we leave, the line to order reaches the door.

1 p.m. -- While my companions head out to explore, I venture to Fenway for the Hot Stove Cool Music roundtable. For $100, fans can watch Gammons, Epstein, Mets general manager Omar Minaya, Cherington, Eddie Romero, Jr., the Red Sox coordinator of Latin American operations and current players like Manny Delcarmen, Bronson Arroyo and Ryan Kalish discuss the globalization of baseball.

"There aren't many cities where you can do a single-topic forum like this and draw a crowd," Gammons tells me later. "It's really incredible when you think about it."

The event is preceded by a VIP gathering for sponsors who mingle, eat light snacks and pose for pictures with the Red Sox two World Series trophies. There are also proclamations declaring "Peter Gammons Day" in Boston and Massachusetts and an announcement that the Foundation to be Named Later will endowing scholarships in his name to four Boston Public Schools students.

There is a silent auction of various signed items. Interestingly, the item that draws the highest bid is a signed photo of Derek Jeter, who plays for the enemy.

3 p.m. -- Though I'm enjoying the panel discussion, I have to head to House of Blues for sound check. I join HSCM Pete Stone and his friend, Megan, for a quick walk to the venue. The bill features Boston natives State Radio, supergroup Tinted Windows, which features James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins on guitar, Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick on drums, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne on bass, Josh Lattanzi from Ivy on guitar and vocals by Taylor Hanson, of Hanson (which explains why there are young girls camped outside to enter the gig).

The bill also features a set by Kay Hanley (formerly of Letters to Cleo) and her band, which includes her husband, Mike; Gammons' band, and an up and coming group from Providence called The Low Anthem. (The Low Anthem plays at the Riverside on March 6.)

3:15 p.m. -- The House of Blues is a gorgeous venue. It's considerably larger (though less charming and historic) than the Paradise. With backstage passes secured, we watch Tinted Windows run through sound check. State Radio, whose members live about a mile from Fenway, is the headliner and biggest draw of the evening. They have their own equipment and Tinted Windows has some gear as well. The rest of the bands will use a "back line" setup of amps and drums provided by the venue for the gig. As roadies, our job will be to move the back line forward when Tinted Windows and State Radio are through with sound check. When the first groups are done, we'll move the back line back and bring up the gear for the other bands. If it sounds complicated, it's not. Our function is to be available. We'll take guitars off stage and have them tuned and ready when needed. We'll put them in cases when they're no longer needed. If a string breaks, one of us will put on a new one. At the Paradise, we had to keep close watch on the gear to make sure none of it disappeared. That's not as big an issue at House of Blues, where the venue is larger and the backstage is more secure, but it's still something to think about.

4 p.m. -- As Tinted Windows runs through some of its songs, I wonder about the collected musical experience on stage -- and on this bill. It's pretty staggering. How many bus rides, hotel rooms, recording sessions and backstage deli trays have these guys been through? I look over at a small man dressed in black with a beret standing in front of one of the dressing rooms. It's Seth Justman from the J. Geils Band. I think of all the gigs he's played in his life and all the time he's wasted backstage waiting for a show to start. Still, he was one of the first to arrive and displays no rock star "aura" whatsoever.

4:25 p.m. -- At some point during sound check, my mind drifts to spring training. Hanging around a rock venue hours before a gig is a bit like watching pitchers covering first base on the first day of spring training. It sounds cool, but it can be a bit tedious. I've heard performers -- comedians, musicians and actors -- say that the hours onstage are heavenly and everything else is mind-numbing. I can see that.

4:40 p.m. -- The highlight of sound check arrives when State Radio is on stage and Chad Urmston says "Hang on -- let me check the oil can guitar." He then hauls out a guitar made out of an old oil can.

5:05 p.m. -- Sound check is running a bit behind schedule, which doesn't bode well for the evening's program. We're on a tight schedule because at 10 p.m. the House of Blues turns into a dance club and management wants us out.

5:10 p.m. -- A crew from Comcast cable is filming the show, with a makeshift control room set up backstage. Throughout the night, I'll stop to check out the proceedings. The HD cameras make the stage and venue look amazing.

5:25 p.m. -- After Gammons conducts an interview with the Comcast crew covering the vent, I get a few moments to chat with him. "People really seem to enjoy this," he says, glancing around the hall. "They come for the music. They spend money at the auction. Mostly, though, they come because they know they're going to have a good time."

I ask Gammons about his most memorable moment in the past 10 years. "A few years ago, we had Paul Barrere and the guys from Little Feat with us," he said. "We were on stage doing one of their songs, I think it was "Willin'" and Bill Janovitz came over to me and said "This ain't a cover right now... Don't screw up." That was pretty amazing."

5:40 p.m. -- As Kay Hanley and her band go through soundcheck, Ken Casey arrives. Casey is a founding member of the Dropkick Murphys and will sing "The Dirty Glass" that he co-wrote with Hanley. "I'm only doing that one song," Casey said. "We're playing a benefit tonight in Dorchester for a cop who got killed."

A lot of musicians would bristle at playing one benefit in a night. Casey is doing two. That sort of "pitch in for a good cause" spirit permeates the participants in the Hot Stove Cool Music camp. It's clear that people put a lot of time and effort into making things run smoothly and making the event a success. Egos and attitudes are checked at the door. The only rock-star trapping is the guest list. "It's huge," Horrigan said. I'd comment about the irony of people wanting to get into a benefit for free, but I'm not paying admission tonight, so I can't really talk.

The second highlight of soundcheck comes when Casey and Hanley try to teach their drummer the intricacies of the song.

6:05 p.m. -- The doors to the venue open and young girls from outside sprint to the front of the stage to stake out space in front of Taylor Hanson. Meanwhile, the VIP reception in the Foundation Room at the club gets underway. The Foundation Room is a large, swanky area hidden on the second floor that looks like the kind of place where you would run into Lindsay Lohan, a Kardashian and Mini-me on your way back from the bar. Doug Flutie is inside, hanging out with Mike O'Malley, Gammons and Theo Epstein, who doesn't look nervous about strapping on his Les Paul and cranking with the big boys. I figure that bringing two World Series trophies to Red Sox nation probably dulls some of the nerves.

6:55 p.m. -- Getting close to showtime. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo, a Hot Stove veteran, is opening the show with an acoustic set. He bounces around and fidgets like an athlete waiting for the national anthem to end. Nobody is bothered by the fact that Arroyo is no longer with the Sox. Once you're on a winning team in Boston, you're in the club for life. In past years, several Boston players attended this gig, including a shirtless Johnny Damon and closer Jonathan Papelbon. This year, Arroyo and ex-Red Sox reliever Lenny DiNardo are the musical participants (Lenny plays with the All-Stars). Youkilis, who shows up mid-set and helps with the auction, is the only current player.

7:02 p.m. -- We're late already. Arroyo is ready, but we have to find Mike O'Malley to introduce him. "I can just go up there," Arroyo says. O'Malley arrives and the show starts. Just when it appears that we'll be back on schedule, Arroyo struggles with a tuning and sets us back behind schedule.

7:15 p.m. -- 10:15 p.m. -- The show continues without a hitch. I could go into minute detail with highlights, but suffice to say all the bands bring their "A-game."

Some of the standout moments include:

  • Members of Low Anthem are absolutely star-struck about meeting Gammons, whom they consider an icon. I feel the same way -- on a much smaller scale -- about Janovitz and Gent. I've enjoyed their music on so many jogs and benders that I always feel like I owe them a drink in order to show my appreciation.
  • "The Dirty Glass" cover, which was so tough to nail down in rehearsal, goes off without a hitch.
  • Janovitz opens the All-Stars set with a couple of Buffalo Tom songs -- "Tailights Fade" and "Treehouse" -- the latter of which included a horn section. He opened by dubbing the band "Buffalo Theo." Epstein, who looks more comfortable on stage than he did three years ago, breaks a string at one point and suffers a cut over his eyebrow. "You were rocking too hard," we tell him.
  • O'Malley, who skillfully fills the changeover time with baseball banter and auctioneering, joins the All-Stars for a version of the Geils Band's hit "Must of Got Lost." Justman, who has probably played the song thousands of times, smiles.
  • Gammons, who prefers rhythm guitar, takes lead vocals on John Hiatt's "Perfectly Good Guitar," which features a searing solo by Janovitz, and a version of "Wake Me, Shake Me."
  • As Tinted Windows prepares to take the stage, James Iha stands in the wings and is introduced to Youkilis. "I wanted to be a baseball player when I was younger," Iha says. "You guys play too many games." Iha also points out that he's a bit on the small side to be a big-leaguer.
  • Carlos, longtime drummer for Cheap Trick, has a drum tech with him. This gentleman, who also serves as road manager for The Offspring, sits about a yard away from the kit during the set.
  • State Radio, which melds reggae and punk, opens with "Knights of Bostonia," a new song and reaches new heights with a set-closing song called "Gang of Thieves."
  • Throughout the night, there was talk of an all-inclusive jam to end the concert. Unfortunately, the road crew already packed away most of the amps in order to give State Radio the full stage. Epstein, Arroyo, Youkilis, and a few others join State Radio for a show-closing version of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World."
  • The show ends past curfew, but only slightly.

11:05 p.m. -- 2 a.m. -- After some confusion about the venue, an after-party begins in the Foundation Room and moves to the Eastern Standard. Many of the participants hang out -- Iha, O'Malley, Gent, Hanley and others all attend. Few of the "civilians" at either venue realize they are rubbing elbows with music royalty.

The drinks and conversation flow into the wee hours. The party breaks up and will reconvene in 12 months.

A day after the gig, I two items. The first, was Janovitz's blog and it pretty much sums things up. An excerpt:

"The astounding thing about HSCM, though, is how few people have left the fold. It is like the mafia. You can't get out that easily. It is heartwarming to see how much of a close group of people it is, how much we look forward to seeing and playing music with each other, hanging with each other's families, etc. And we are fully aware of less charitable views of the event: we're just a bunch of the same crusty old Boston rockers playing behind a baseball writer/commentator, baseball players and general managers strapping on guitars, the same group of people year after year, etc. Am I more known as a sideman for Peter Gammons than for my Buffalo Tom-acity? I don't think so, but it is not an absurd question. Who cares?"

The second item I read is from a Boston publication that points out that the event raised more than $300,000 for charity.

When you raise that kind of dough for a good cause, who cares what people think?

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.