Features
Megan Leigh

They get around

Abortion | Guess who headlined a pro-life fundraiser in Ohio: The Beach Boys

Issue: "Orphaned no more," July 30, 2011

A lot has changed during the 28 years since James Watt, President Reagan's secretary of the interior, made headlines by forbidding the Beach Boys to perform at the National Mall on the Fourth of July because they attracted an "undesirable element."

Now rappers get invited to the White House-and the Beach Boys headline concerts to raise funds for the Terry Schiavo Life and Hope Network.

The 2011 version of the annual Terry Schiavo Life & Hope Concert took place on June 12 at the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering, Ohio. A near capacity crowd of 4,000 paid $35 per ticket to hear not only the Beach Boys but also the uproarious stand-up comedy of the "Master of Ceremonies" Jim Labriola (best remembered for his recurring role as "Benny Baroni" on Home Improvement) and the gregarious showmanship of the Lettermen, the popular 1960s vocal group ("When I Fall in Love," "Goin' Out of My Head/Can't Take My Eyes Off of You") currently led by founding member Tony Butala and his frequent fellow Lettermen for the last 25 years, Donovan Tea and Mark Preston.

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As for the woman after whom the event was named, she was represented by May Schindler, Suzanne Schindler Vitadamo, and Bobby Schindler-her mother, sister, and brother, respectively. They briefly took the stage after the Lettermen had performed and the winners of the silent auction had been announced to express their gratitude to the audience and to remind its members that, although it was their family member whose tragic story seized the nation's imagination and galvanized the pro-life movement in 2005, there are many other people in her situation who are still fighting for their lives and for whom the evening's funds were being raised.

The Schindlers' remarks weren't the only reminder of the concert's purpose. Besides the banner draped across the top of the stage, concertgoers were given a 20-page program, several pages of which comprised a recap of the Schiavo saga. "Contrary to what has and continues to be reported by many in the media today," it read, "Terri was not kept alive by any machines, was not brain dead, was not in a coma, nor was she in a 'persistent vegetative state' or dying of any terminal illness." The entry goes on to summarize the legal details of the case (including Schiavo's husband's use of his power-of-attorney rights to bring about her "court-ordered starvation and dehydration") and to draw attention to the "tens of thousands of brain injured individuals living today in a similar capacity to Terri's."

"The Lord really blessed us," concluded Schiavo's mother from the stage in reference to the concert's success. "So now please enjoy, and I mean really enjoy, the Beach Boys!"

In a sense, what followed for the next two hours was a typical 21st-century Beach Boys concert. The eight-member ensemble, led by the baseball-cap-wearing founding Beach Boy Mike Love and longtime Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, played 33 songs beginning with "Surfin'" (the band's first single), ending with "Fun, Fun, Fun," and hitting nearly every one of the group's other several-dozen hits along the way.

While at 70 Love still sings lead on the songs originally bearing his vocal stamp, band attrition (the death in 1983 of Dennis Wilson, the death in 1998 of Carl Wilson, the departure in 1998 of Al Jardine, the solo career of the rejuvenated head Beach Boy Brian Wilson) has made the creative assigning of other lead-vocal duties necessary. Johnston now sings lead on "God Only Knows" and "Good Vibrations," the drummer (and former member of the Cowsills) John Cowsill sings lead on "Darlin'" and "Help Me, Rhonda," and the lead guitarist Scott Totten, the bassist Randell Kirsch, and the rhythm guitarist Christian Love (Mike's son) take turns on others. And, of course, harmonies abound. Close your eyes and you can almost believe it's 1974, the year the Beach Boys' Endless Summer topped the charts, again.

What couldn't help jolting the crowd back to the present was the presence of John Stamos, the General Hospital, Full House, and now Glee star who has been moonlighting as an occasional Beach Boy since the early '90s and was announced as a participant in the Schiavo concert only three days before the event.

At 48, Stamos remains possessed of both youthful good looks and energy, the former of which probably explained the presence of teenaged girls in the crowd and the latter of which served his drumming, his guitar playing, his between-song "ageist" comedy at Mike Love's expense (Stamos called him "Dad" at one point), and his onstage high jinks in general.

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