Generations of American rock fans can enjoy a great time for an even greater cause when Daughtry and special guest Night Ranger take to the stage at this year’s 15th annual Hospice Celebrity Party, being held Wednesday, June 28, at the Sixth Ward Booster Club Field in Oneonta.
Organizers have spent months gearing up for the event, which doubles as a long-awaited musical kickoff to summer and a chance to support Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care.
Craig Gelbsman of Rage Productions, whom Bob Escher, director of development with CAHPC, called “the brains and vision” of the operation, has been an integral part of pre-production since the event’s early days. The event started in 1999 as a golf tournament, officials explained, but needed more dynamism to grow and engage a broader crowd.
“The golf tournament was a success,” Escher said. “But it was flattening, and I knew we had to do something to mix it up.”
“I’ve been in the concert business since ’93,” Gelbsman said. “Bob came to me and I said, ‘The way to mix it up is entertainment. If you get a band in there, you’ll see it grow.’” From there, the pair convinced a former CAHPC chief executive officer and, after an initial show featuring Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, watched the revamped event expand steadily year after year.
“It went from about 50 people to 400 for that first time, and we brought in a totally different clientele,” said Gelbsman, who added that attendance has since bloomed to anywhere from 1,000 to more than 4,500 per show.
“It was just what (the event) needed,” Escher said.
Concert venues enlarged rapidly from the Cooperstown backyard of the late, longtime CAHPC beneficiary, Walter Rich, to Doubleday Field in Cooperstown to Ommegang Brewery to the now defunct Soccer Hall of Fame to, most recently, the Sixth Ward Booster Club Field in Oneonta.
Over the years, headlining acts have included the Doobie Brothers, Styx, Toto, REO Speedwagon, Kenny Loggins, Huey Lewis and the News, Foreigner, Chicago and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Recalling the concert’s evolution, Gelbsman said the Doobie Brothers’ appearance at Ommegang, “took it to another level.”
“We were really the first ones to do a national act like that at Ommegang,” Gelbsman said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ve really spurred entertainment in the area. ... There’s a lot of entertainment now in Otsego County, and I think that stems from Hospice taking that leap.”
Today, Hospice picks the bands based on “what our market is,” Gelbsman explained. In years past, he and Escher have tried to incorporate a country act into the lineup, based on genre popularity, he said.
“This year’s a little different,” Gelbsman said. “Daughtry is newer and spans the ages, and Night Ranger is bringing the 80s classic rock … We’re trying to bring that mix.”
Asked about the preparation leading up to each year’s event, Escher said, “We don’t have a big committee, but we have people [who] work their tails off to make this thing happen … it’s way more than Craig and [me].”
Speaking of Gelbsman specifically, Escher said Hospice is “lucky somebody of his talent is available and willing to do this.”
“We have a really large group of supporters who come year in, year out, which we’re really grateful for,” Escher said.
Current CAHPC chief executive officer, Dan Ayres, said when it comes to Hospice Celebrity Party planning, he entrusts everything to Gelbsman and Escher. A former attendee of the event, Ayres said, “I defer to these guys; they’re the experts. I just let them run with it.” “I’m very excited about it,” Ayres said. “[This event] really connects us to the community, and it has become such an important part of the summer schedule in the community.”
Ayres said benefits of the annual concert include increased tourism, business and foot traffic in Oneonta.
“It gets our word out to those who know and love us, but also to a whole new community,” he said.
Ayres acknowledged the support of area hotels, restaurants, businesses and the 60-plus volunteers involved in executing the Hospice Celebrity Party.
“Hospice by itself couldn’t do this,” he said. “It’s only by having everyone helping that it comes together.”
The fact that the event brings in between $100,000 to $200,000 annually is something that Ayres recognized as “important,” though he underscored, “Increasing awareness is even more important.”
The funds raised, explained Ayres, go toward services not subsidized through Medicaid or traditional insurance providers.
“It gives us breathing room,” said Ayres.
Returning event host, Oneonta native, former college and national football standout and well-known ESPN personality Mark May will once again be putting the “celebrity” in Hospice Celebrity Party. Gelbsman called May “a big asset,” and Escher noted, “He’s essentially been involved since the beginning.”
In addition to hosting the morning golf tournament and evening concert, May recruits a handful of fellow celebrities, largely from the sports world, to participate in the golf tournament held at the Leatherstocking Golf Course at the Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown.
Businesses “buy” a golf team and each team gets a celebrity, the men explained. Celebrities do not get paid, and “that’s what makes it special and really speaks to the event,” according to Ayres.
“They come because of the way we treat them and they have a really good time,” Escher said. “They all say it’s one of the best events on their circuit.”
May told The Scene that his list of celebrity guests “keeps getting added to.” Participants this year will include athletes, coaches, directors and sportscasters such as Mark Rypien, Joe Washington, Kevin Gilbride and his son, Kevin M. Gilbride, Chris Conner, Sal Paolantonio and Barry Melrose, he said.
May, who called the double whammy of tournament and concert a “worthy event,” said the concert has been a sell-out from the first year.
“There’s always a great response locally,” May said, “and the bottom line is to raise funds and for everyone to have a good time.”
Gelbsman, who said he has yet to come across a single artist or athlete untouched by Hospice’s work, emphasized, “You get one chance. Hospice touches a lot of people through different means, and when they come for the concert, they get that awareness.”