In the current world of COVID-quarantine uncertainty, Beverly Hills resident and WME (William Morris Endeavor) partner Richard Weitz fuses the new reality of virtual Zoom (a video conferencing app), parties as entertainment into a global good deed that gives people something to look forward to on a homebound Saturday night.
Weitz is a gala co-chair for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Chrysalis, and president of the Saban Community Clinic, so he has David Foster and Clive Davis on speed dial. But this virtual phenomenon actually started with Weitz’s 17-year-old -daughter Demi who caught the philanthropy gene early on, along with a Chicago piano player named Dario.
This “quarantunes” story that has been spreading like wildfire thought the community over the past several weeks. The invite-only events started with Weitz looking for a fun way to celebrate his daughter’s birthday during the shelter in place. “My Dad hired his friend Dario [from a piano bar in Chicago] to do a little surprise party for me and my friends on Zoom.”
According to Demi, “My friends were not so into it.” As it turned out, a group of teens didn’t want to hear “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Weitz said, “Give me an hour and I’ll get some friends to jump on. This included Debbie Gibson, followed by John Mayer.” “They started talking, sharing stories and playing music,” recalled Demi. “John Mayer sang me happy birthday-it was an awesome end.”
The Weitz family decided to through another virtual party just for fun, “Dad got Rick Springfield,” Demi told the Courier. “The Hollywood Reporter picked it up and it got bigger and bigger. I said ‘Dad, we need to raise money for charity. A lot of people need our help and we have this platform we should do something.'”
Demi immediately went to work putting together a GoFundMe page. “I thought we were going to raise $10,000, but my Dad said, ‘go for $30,000.’ We were at $33,000 be the end of the three hours. My dad said, ‘let’s try and go to $50,000.'” That call raised $100,000.
According to Demi, “We started going deeper into who needs the help and we wanted to make it more informative.” The plight of the Zoom calls shifted, “It was no longer just about what celebrity we could get on the phone, but how can we do good and bring a sense of community,” she said. The Weitz’ have also teamed up with United Way, the Wells Fargo Foundation and everyone’s favorite MC Billy Harris, on project “Room Key” which helps to take people off the streets and give them a wellness-kit with essentials.
To date, the family has raised close to a million dollars for benefactors such as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the New York public hospital.
“This has been the most humbling and eye-opening experience ever,” Demi told the Courier. “I never want to stop giving back but it’s not about me or the celebrities. Everyone is the same when you’re on the call.”
So far, some of the talent mix on the calls has ranged from Cyndi Lauper, Barry Gibb, Barry Manilow, Boy George, Billy Ray Cyrus, LL Cool J, and Jewel but even with that bevy of talent transcending many genres Weitz is still keen to book Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Madonna, Lionel Ritchie, Phil Collins, and Dolly Parton.
Weitz feels that as long as people are still quarantined, this form of entertainment will be the norm. Weitz has virtual events coming up this June with the Saban Community Clinic.
There have been other living room concerts with celebrity hosts and superstar guests but the Weitz events are not pre-recorded. “It’s exclusive to the extent that you need to know me or be involved in helping us to be invited, but everybody from my hairdresser to a valet or waiters that I know from restaurants can be on the call. It’s not elitist, it’s inclusive,” concludes Weitz.
With all these high-profile attendees, getting a slot on the call can be tricky. “When we jumped from 500 to 750, I didn’t invite the same people over and over again,” said Weitz. “I don’t want to max out because when an artist wants to come on and they can’t join, I can’t have them not be part of it.”
“It all blends into work for me but it’s been a humbling and amazing experience because I get to talk to the artists, managers and agents whether they are WME clients or not,” said Weitz. “It’s all for one and one for all. I don’t have to represent them but a bunch of people have gotten jobs from this,” he adds.
“It’s been so phenomenal and it’s skyrocketed,” said Demi. “I wouldn’t change any of it for the world and we love Dario.”