Nearly 50 performers participate in concert at Christmas Hill
Park to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims
By Sheila Sanchez Special to the Dispatch
Gilroy – New Orleans native Alton Chalk, 51, teared up when he recounted seeing a mother drown while trying to save her children and husband from the rising waters of Hurricane Katrina.
Chalk, one of several evacuees relocating to Gilroy with the help of South County Housing, said the devastation hit home knowing parents lost their children.
He spoke about trying to come to terms with the loss of life and property in Pass Christian, Miss., where he worked as a limousine driver, during the Live Aid Benefit Concert at Christmas Hill Park Saturday.
“Nothing is there anymore,” he told the audience. “When the hurricane came, everything disappeared.”
About 1,000 people opened their hearts and wallets to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina during the concert that raised about $6,000 for the American Red Cross.
While some in attendance watched from amphitheater seats, others danced to the likes of celebrity impersonators of the Blues Brothers, Elvis and Barry White.
The fundraiser held special meaning for Tina Turner look-alike Hollie Vest. She chokes up talking about New Orleans, where she ran a bed and breakfast before it was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. But her focus was on the others who lost friends, families and homes.
“I’m doing what I can,” Vest said. “Let’s let the good times roll in New Orleans once again.”
Hal Ratka, 69, attended with his wife and friends from San Jose.
“I like to support all of the city’s concerts,” he said. “I’ve been to New Orleans for Mardi Grass and the devastating thing is that people are not prepared. We can’t wait for the government to come move you, take care of you and feed you.”
Karen Oneto, 44, and her husband, Rob, a member of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, were happy to participate as they enjoyed the performers and wanted to do something to help the hurricane victims. “This is awesome,” she said. “I’m glad we can do our little part here.”
Gloria Vasquez, 47, of San Juan Bautista, came to support the event to help those who lost everything during the disaster.
Vasquez had also participated earlier this month in an Oakland A’s game fundraiser and in her company’s relief drive.
“I donated then, I’m donating now and I’ll continue to donate in the future,” she said.
Most of the entertainers were brought to South County by Linda Collins, with the Las Vegas-based Classique Productions talent agency.
Collins, who has been involved in four other fundraisers in Las Vegas for victims of Hurricane Katrina, was happy with the response she received from the entertainers.
“All I had to do was ask,” she said.
Many of the performers flew to the Bay Area courtesy of Southwest Airlines. Others drove several hours to get to the event.
“This is Americans helping Americans,” she said. “We help every other country in the world and we need to help each other. They all have talent and they’re willing to donate it to help a worthy cause.”
But it was Steve Staloch, publisher of the Gilroy Dispatch, the Hollister Free Lance and the Morgan Hill Times, and Ted Fox, CEO of Saint Louise Regional Hospital, who were the masterminds behind the event.
The newspaperman, who lived in Port Arthur, Texas, several years ago, began brainstorming ways to help ease the suffering of those affected by Katrina soon after the hurricane struck Aug. 29. He met with Ted Fox, chief executive officer of Saint Louise Regional Hospital, and the two decided to organize the concert.
Saturday afternoon, members of the Gilroy Police Department dragged the men on stage to dance with Turner impersonator Vest.
“I know what hurricanes can do. It’s so unfortunate that this happened to people of that area. Rebuilding is going to take years and years,” Staloch said. “The Red Cross is being drained today with resources. It was the right thing to do. … All these performers came out here on their own nickel.”
Staloch praised Mainstreet Media Group’s Marketing Director Kelly Dobson and Vivian Smith, marketing director for Saint Louise Regional Hospital, for coordinating the event.
Dobson contacted Classique Productions wondering if it could donate a band to help with the fundraiser and Collins surprised her by offering to bring 48 performers to the event. Gilroy-based ShaBoom band wrapped up the evening to the delight of concertgoers.
Rod Kelley elementary School student Jimmie Lopez, Jr., 10, spoke between shouts from the crowds and music from the stage about the horror images he saw on the television following the disaster. “It flooded the whole town. Some people drowned and died,” said Lopez, who attended with his parents and 7-year-old brother. “They don’t have a home because the hurricane destroyed it. That’s why we have to pay money to help them buy new homes so they can be happy again for the rest of their lives.”