The Quarantunes series of Zoom concerts that entertained industry insiders during the worst of the pandemic lockdown and raised more than $26 million for charity came to an emotional end Saturday night with a five-hour farewell edition that benefited the NAACP.
The fundraising effort launched by WME partner Richard Weitz and his then-17-year-old daughter Demi closed with members of Kool and the Gang delivering an all-remote remote performance of their upbeat classic “Celebration.” All told, the Weitzes delivered 58 Quarantunes sessions, some of which lasted four hours or more.
Saturday’s finale also featured NAACP president Derrick Johnson and Kyle Bowser, the showrunner who is now senior VP of the NAACP’s Hollywood Bureau. The musical selections included performances from R&B stars and Quarantunes regulars such as Johnny Gill, Seidah Garrett, Nile Rodgers, SOS Band, Jeffrey Osborne, Kathy Sledge, Deborah Cox, Jac Ross and Amos Lee.
“We have to fight against racism, tribalist and anti Semitic behavior,” Johnson said of the NAACP’s policy agenda. He noted the role that the civil rights organization played in helping to challenge specious election fraud lawsuits pushed by the Trump camp following the 2020 presidential election.
At its peak last summer, the Weitzes’ Quarantunes series offered a measure of connection for suddenly isolated industry insiders who accustomed to a regular schedule of schmoozing at events. The charitable component was added early on by Demi Weitz, who aimed to raise $10,000 for coronavirus relief funds. The tally came in at $38,000 and it lit a fire under Demi to do more. Two and a half months later, the total surpassed $4 million.
Richard Weitz noted more than once on Saturday that booking the shows was becoming harder because so many musicians are hitting the road as COVID restrictions ease. At the same time he predicted that the Weitz family concert venture would be back in some form, perhaps as a holiday pop-up event.
The Quarantunes series began in the Weitzes’ showroom-ready Beverly Hills kitchen. But the production became more ambitious as the longtime literary agent and music buff pulled in favors and gained notoriety for the fundraising prowess. There were shows hosted from an empty Dodger Stadium, an empty Hollywood Bowl and a closed Broadway theater. On Saturday, the typically spontaneous production hailed from the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles. Jimmy Jam, the seasoned songwriter and producer, was also on hand.
Performances by Garrett and others were held in the museum’s Clive Davis Theatre, a detail that brought a smile to the legendary music executive who was a Quarantunes regular.
“I’m touched by it,” Davis said. He also shamelessly pitched artists on performing at the Aug. 21 concert event in Central Park that Davis is helping to steer for the city of New York.
R&B crooner Gill scored with his steamy hit “There You Go.” Garrett impressed with a performance of the Michael Jackson hit that she co-wrote, “Man in the Mirror.” Lee channeled Bob Dylan for an acoustic rendition of “I Shall Be Released.” Ross delivered a soulful “My Girl” at the piano, followed by his anthem “It’s OK to be Black.”
The number of thank yous and “we love yous” heard in the final hour of the broadcast underscored how important Quarantunes was as a social event during the height of pandemic isolation. Weitz choked up several times as he expressed his love and parental pride for the daughter who was a junior in high school when the effort began. Demi is now heading off to Stanford University.
Comedian Jeff Ross, another Quarantunes staple, gave a nod to the college admission scandal that engulfed some industry figures in 2019. Noting that Demi is bound for one of the nation’s most prestigious universities, he cracked, “and you didn’t even have to pretend to be on the rowing team to get in.”
The final installment had the shambolic charm that excused the occasional tech and audio glitches, and plenty of cross talk. But there was heart to spare. Richard Weitz’s display of raw fatherly emotion as he reflected in real-time on seeing his daughter blossom into a determined young woman made for compelling viewing.
“God and the world chose us to do this together,” Weitz told his beaming daughter. “We needed the bond.”