A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

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This post is about David Crosby’s concert for a friend.

I know a CEO who wears cowboy boots and blue jeans and keeps a folded wad of crisp Ben Franklins in his pants pocket. His name is Glade Knight and he lives on a ranch outside Richmond. Twenty-five years ago he rescued a private girls school that had gone under and turned it into a liberal arts college called Southern Virginia University. I started teaching there 10 years ago. And even though I now reside in Connecticut, I run the university’s Institute for Writing and Mass Media, a non-profit that I founded to help students prepare for careers in media. You can check out what we do in this new video.

We launched the Institute last fall. Our inaugural event was a workshop taught by filmmaker Chris Barlow from NFL Films. While on campus, he screened “Steve Young: A Football Life,” which aired on the NFL Network a couple weeks later. Steve Young’s parents, Grit and Sherry, attended. It was a great kick off.

(Grit and Sherry Young screening a film about their son at SVU.)(Grit and Sherry Young screening a film about their son at SVU.)

The next day I attended a football game with Glade Knight. Standing on the sideline, we brainstormed over ways to raise the visibility of the Institute and the University. I brought up my friendship with musician David Crosby, who had just finished writing the theme song for the movie “Little Pink House,” which is based on my book by the same title.

“If I ask him, maybe he’ll come and play a benefit concert for us,” I said.

“Find out what it would take,” Knight said.

That was ten months ago. Fast-forward to last Sunday. It’s the day before Memorial Day and I’m at my Connecticut home with my family when Crosby and his band show up for dinner. They were joined by Courtney Balaker, the director and screenwriter for “Little Pink House,” who had flown out from Los Angeles.

David Crosby, his band, and my friends and family at my home. (photo by Clancy Benedict)David Crosby, his band, and my friends and family at my home. (photo by Clancy Benedict)

All of them were in town for a concert I helped arrange for the following night at the Garde Arts Center in nearby New London. Some of the proceeds went to my non-profit and some went to the theater, which is also a non-profit.

It’s not every day that a rock band and a Hollywood director comes over for Sunday dinner. But this was more like having family over. David and his wife Jan have always treated my wife and children that way. Its what friends do. Plus, David’s one of those humans that I want around my children. His honesty is rare; his sense of humor a gift.

Clara Belle and her friends laughing after Crosby told them a funny story about bad words.Clara Belle and her friends laughing after Crosby told them a funny story about bad words.

The next day I hosted a private reception for over 75 people who made a donation to Southern Virginia University in exchange for a premium concert seat. As I stood to address them, I was overcome by the friends I saw in the room.

Armen Keteyian is my writing partner on the Tiger Woods biography. He and his wife Dede drove up from the other end of the state.

I have known Vic Gaska since my freshman year of high school when we were dishwashers at a nearby seafood restaurant. He brought his girlfriend.

Don Baur is a Washington lawyer that I’ve worked with 17 years ago to reform state and federal Indian gaming laws. He and his wife traveled up from DC.

Andy Dousis and I went to high school together. When my oldest son needed a place to live last summer, Andy opened up his home and refused to take a dime. He’s got his wife, his mother, and his mother-in-law with him.

Scott Bullock is the president of the Institute for Justice. He was the lead litigator in the infamous U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo v. New London. He and three other members of the firm flew up from Arlington, VA.

Susette Kelo is the Kelo in Kelo v. New London. She has ten friends and family members with her.

Dave Prentice works in construction. When my son needed a place for his German Shepherd to live last summer, Dave took in the dog. He loves David Crosby.

Sue and Dave Labrie run the Inn at Harbor Hill, where a lot of our out-of-town guests are staying (and two of my children work).

Steve and Jeanne Sigel run the theater. Without them and their terrific staff, none of this would be happening.
Michele DiBuono oversaw the entire fundraiser, helped sell the tickets, and made sure all of our supporters were taken care of.

We showed the trailer for “Little Pink House” and Courtney Balaker said a few words about the film, which hopefully will be in theaters by the end of this year.

Susette Kelo and Courtney Balaker at The Garde. (Photo by Tom Bombria)Susette Kelo and Courtney Balaker at The Garde. (Photo by Tom Bombria)

Glade Knight, sporting his cowboy boots and jeans, told the group about Southern Virginia University.

 (Left to right: Glade Knight, Justin Knight and Kerry Harding with a copy of the 1969 record Crosby, Stills & Nash. Photo by Tom Bombria.) (Left to right: Glade Knight, Justin Knight and Kerry Harding with a copy of the 1969 record Crosby, Stills & Nash. Photo by Tom Bombria.)

Then David did a Q&A session with the audience, where he talked about everything from the passing of Gregg Allman to the current state of politics in America.

 (David Crosby addresses donors to SVU. Photo by Donald Wilson) (David Crosby addresses donors to SVU. Photo by Donald Wilson)

As soon as the reception ended, the concert started. More than 1,000 people packed the theater. But Crosby was so personal that it felt like we were all in his living room. He told stories about his interactions with George Harrison, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Joni Mitchell, David Gilmour, Warren Zevon, and Jackson Browne. He talked about songwriting, civil rights, and political activism. And he and his band jammed. On more than one occasion, I noticed the provost of our university, Scott Dransfield, up on his feet, rockin' to the drum and guitar solos. How cool is it to go to a university where the provost likes to rock?

 (David Crosby & Friends on stage at The Garde. Photo by Donald Wilson) (David Crosby & Friends on stage at The Garde. Photo by Donald Wilson)

The emotional highpoint of the show came when David performed “Home Free,” the song he wrote for “Little Pink House.” Standing on a stage that was just a few blocks from the neighborhood where homes were taken by eminent domain and demolished, he introduced the song by saying: “A friend of mine wrote a book. A friend of mine wrote a good book. Little Pink House. Good on you, Jeff Benedict, for writing it. I’m proud of you.”

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To be seated beside my family and amongst my friends while a songwriter I greatly admire spoke those words reminded me how grateful I am to be a writer.

As David sang these words …

And I’d draw
Myself a bath
And soak in the dark
As if I were Noah and this were my ark
And I’d look out of that window
At the tambourine sky
And think to myself
How lucky am I?
That I have my home
And I live here
Like a baby in a blanket with nothing to fear

…Susette Kelo stood in the back of the theater, tears streaming down her face.

When the song ended, the audience rose to its feet, one thousand strong. The ovation was loud, spirited and long. The power of storytelling and music had combined to elicit a powerful, emotional response.

During the ovation, my uncle, who was seated directly behind me, patted me on the shoulder. He didn’t say a word, but he didn’t have to. The hand on the shoulder was his way of saying he was proud.

Halfway through the show, David took a 15-minute break. During the intermission, one person after another approached me to say how much they were loving the spirit and vibe of the show. At one point I found Glade Knight. Together, we looked at the full theater.

(A full house at the Garde for David Crosby. Photo by Donald Wilson.)(A full house at the Garde for David Crosby. Photo by Donald Wilson.)

I said to him: “Can you believe this all started with an idea hatched on a football field at Southern Virginia University?”

POST SCRIPT

Thanks to David Crosby, his band, The Garde Arts Center, and a lot of friends who attended the show, the Institute came within $10,000 of meeting our annual fundraising goal for 2016-17. More importantly, new friendships were forged and old ones were deepened. The enthusiasm was so strong that I think we may need to do this again next year. Besides, Crosby's band mates are now part of the family.

Drummer Steve DiStanislao gave his drumsticks to Clara Belle after the show.Drummer Steve DiStanislao gave his drumsticks to Clara Belle after the show.

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Jeff Benedict is a best selling author of 14 books and a television and film producer.  His latest book — QB: My Life Behind the Spiral (written with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young) was a New York Times bestseller. He is currently writing the biography of Tiger Woods. He is a producer on the forthcoming motion picture “Little Pink House,” starring Oscar-nominated Catherine Keener with music by David Crosby.  To book him for a speech or private event, contact Ellis Trevor at ellis@chartwellspeakers.com

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