Los Angeles sees a lot of parties and intimate performances, but John Varvatos’ annual Stuart House benefit, held at his West Hollywood store and the surrounding street, is a special one. Held in the daytime with a kids’ tent, it creates an incredibly relaxed atmosphere, one that makes for some very intimate celebrations.
The 2012 edition featuring Dave Matthews was so low-key that Avatar star Zoe Saldana was near the front of the stage, dancing throughout the set. So mellow that Alice Cooper and Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston held an uninterrupted summit of cool in the Varvatos store with neither fans nor security in sight.
That mood absolutely carries over to the performances. A few years ago Chris Cornell, who, like Matthews, had appeared in a Varvatos ad campaign, performed unplugged, busting out covers like “Hotel California.” Unplugged in daylight, you never know what you might get.
Varvatos was hoping for the unexpected from Matthews. “I’m looking for Dave to pull something out of the bag of tricks there and surprise us all, something I haven’t heard him do in a while, something I haven’t heard him do in an intimate setting,” the designer told Rolling Stone.
Cooper, out to support fellow Detroiter Varvatos, had some of his own songs he thought Matthews could do if he went the cover route. “There are a bunch,” Cooper told us. “More the mid-tempo stuff, something like ‘Poison’ or ‘Is It My Body.’ That would be something good for him, a little sexier. I don’t think he would do the hard rock stuff, but even the ballads, ‘I Never Cry,’ ‘You and Me’ or ‘Only Women Bleed,’ he could probably do pretty well.”
Much as we would have loved to see Matthews rock some Cooper numbers, there were no covers. But Varvatos definitely got his wish: Matthews said early on during his set that he was going to play some stuff he hadn’t played in a while, joking, “If I make mistakes, I did it on purpose, because I’m an artist.”
Among the songs he broke out in a 40-minute set were a sterling, mistake-free “#41,” “Stay or Leave,” “You And Me” (his own, not Cooper’s) and “Crush.” Matthews had a lot of fun with the setting, telling the crowd that he’s been working on a new album and weaving jokes and stories in between performances. At one point he gave a shout-out to a little girl seated on her father’s shoulders.
He closed with a new song written in Chicago, he said, while with his family. He told of picking up the “guy-tar” while his family was about to go swimming. His little boy asked him if he was coming. “But I was selfish,” Matthews said. “I’ve been swimming with him since.” The result was a new song he said “I think is about swimming. It’s got some drinking references in it, too.”
Stuart House is part of the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center, explained Varvatos. “It treats kids who have been sexually abused,” he said. “They’re at the forefront in terms of working with children and trying to help them through. We’ve just been here as a conduit to help raise money and get the awareness up.”
The event raised over $700,000. After Matthews finished his set, he headed over to the packed kids’ tent to entertain them.