Just four days after Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast, the plans for 12-12-12 – a massive benefit concert at Madison Square Garden featuring Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Kanye West, Roger Waters, Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi, the Who, Billy Joel and many others – started coming together. Spearheading the effort is the same team that organized the Concert for New York City after September 11th: John Sykes, President of Clear Channel Entertainment Enterprises; Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the Weinstein Company and James Dolan, Executive Chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company.
“We realized this wasn’t just a power outage in New York,” Sykes tells Rolling Stone. “This was a catastrophe. We started booking artists at a furious rate, machine-gun style. We literally had it booked in days. Much like the Concert for New York City, there wasn’t a lot of chatter back and forth. The artists were basically quick to say, ‘I’m in.'”
Bruce Springsteen and his team were looking into booking their own benefit concert at New Jersey’s Izod Center when the call came in from Sykes and Weinstein. “I wanted to be sure that the funds would go throughout the devastated areas, not just New York,” says Jon Landau, Springsteen’s manager. “Bruce and I talked it over and he’s thrilled to be doing it . . . The capacity in this format with these particular people to raise money is much, much greater than we could have done on our own. We decided that, at least right now, this is the best thing to do.”
The organizers aimed very high when booking the other acts. “The core of the conversation was, first and foremost, ‘Let’s look to get the biggest legends we can line up on one stage,'” says Sykes. “Then we tried to make most of them somehow either residents of New York or those who really made it in New York. Paul McCartney is a New Yorker half the time. Roger Waters lives in New York. Bruce and Jon Bon Jovi are obviously from New Jersey . . . Even Pete Townshend spends some of his time in New York.”
Finding the right date was challenging. Madison Square Garden was booked pretty solidly through the end of the year, and Springsteen is on tour through December 10th. The Who wrap up the first leg of their Quadrophenia tour on December 9th in Connecticut, so the 12th made sense – even though Jason Mraz had MSG booked on the 11th and they needed that date for rehearsals. Mraz graciously agreed to move his show up a day, and the rest of the pieces started falling into place.
Plans are still very much in flux, but the current plan is to stage the entire show in four-and-a-half hours. The Who, Kanye West, Roger Waters, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will all play roughly 45-minute sets. The other guests – including Alicia Keys and Jon Bon Jovi – will sit in with one or more of the main acts. “There are some slots we haven’t announced yet,” says Sykes. “Some artists have come in these past few days. We’re still trying to put together the best combination to make it a show that people will never forget.”
The Rolling Stones are playing in Newark the day after the concert. Might they stop by? “There’s been talk of that,” says Sykes. “The challenge is they have a full-blown dress rehearsal on the 12th or the 13th because their Pay Per View special is on the 15th. But, yeah, there have been conversations with them. Mick and Keith came out for the Concert for New York City 11 years ago and played on their own. They’re well aware of the show and certainly have been invited to be part of it in any way, shape or form of the band.”
The concert will be broadcast across multiple platforms, but those exact details are still under wraps. “We have yet to announce the final, final lineup and everything else that will be happening that evening,” says Sykes. “We’re speaking to literally every media platform and looking for the best possible reach for fundraising opportunities. What we hope will happen is that many will come in and many doors will be open, like what happened a few weeks ago for the NBC telethon.”
In addition to raising money, organizers hope the concert will educate the country about the full extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. “People don’t realize there’s a very long tail of impact from this hurricane,” says Sykes. “There was the initial damage, but now you have homeless people in New York that are headed into a winter with below-freezing temperatures. These people have nowhere to go. You have homes lost, families torn apart, and these people have nowhere to go.”
The big benefit concerts of the 1970s were notorious for wasteful spending, but that won’t be the case this time around, organizers insist. “The concert business has learned from the mistakes of the past,” says Sykes. “When you have a group like the Robin Hood [Foundation] in New York City, where the entire overhead of the organization is paid for by the board members, that means 100 percent of the funds raised on that concert will go to the people that need it.”
For native New Yorker Alicia Keys, agreeing to perform at the show was a no-brainer. “When you are from New York, you carry the city and its surroundings inside you forever,” she says. “No matter where you go, it’s part of your DNA. The city gives you courage, strength, identity — it protects you. It’s like when a family member needs you: you go. New York, Jersey, Staten Island, people here need help right now. They are our family. As artists we feel a sense of urgency to give back to the place that’s given us so much. I’m honored to participate in this concert. It’s going to be an incredible night.”