One Hundred Million Reasons to Go See Great White

"Once Bitten Twice Shy" ain't one of 'em

It was just over one year ago at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, that Great White's errant pyrotechnics display started a fire that claimed 100 lives -- including that of Great White guitarist Ty Longley. As part of their "Help Us Help Them" tour, Great White will perform at Cardi's on March 6.

While media coverage of the fire was extensive, it was definitely not of the round-the-clock, pull-out-all-the-stops, total overload of the Class-A American Tragedy variety. No, as media feeding frenzies went, this was about a C-level deal -- it ranked somewhere above a Paris Hilton sex tape and somewhere below Dean's scream and Janet's costume reveal. A week or so after the fire, it was supplanted in the news cycle by something more important -- something like, say, the disappearance of Laci Peterson. Laci was a cute, all-American and perky ex-cheerleader. Laci was no Great White fan. (And then a bona fide big story came along: The war in Iraq started, and even Peterson was pushed to the sidelines.)

Why wasn't the story given bigger play? Well, it would help to imagine if the fire had been at a Strokes show on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Imagine that one of the 200 major-label execs in attendance drops the flaming $100 bill he's using to spark up his Montecristo. With deadly efficiency, the ensuing fire consumes the whole club. One hundred actors, supermodels, rock stars and music industry bigwigs perish.

Can you even conceive of the outcry? CNN, Fox News and MSNBC would raise the specter of terrorism, and the tragedy would have its own somber theme music. The nation's terror alert would rise to red, and stay there even after it was learned that a stogie-chomping record exec was to blame. The New York Times would compose tear-jerking bite-size obits on all of the victims. State and even some national politicians would fall over themselves trying to funnel money for the already well-heeled victims and their survivors. The calamity would become a campaign issue, somehow, some way.

More to the point, the rock world would also rally round. In no time flat, there would be an internationally televised "Concert for the Upper West Side." The managers of every hot band on the planet would give their firstborn kids to have their acts on that bill, and the show's proceeds -- after you add in the TV money -- would likely run to the tens of millions. In short, it would be a media overkill event on a par with JonBenet, or Michael's latest pedophilia-related alleged peccadillo.

And not many of them were at the Great White show that February night. No, the people there had mullets and big hair and untidy lives. Many of them worked at Wal-Mart or at strip clubs, at McDonald's or as Starbucks baristas, as legal assistants and medical technicians. In short, they were predominantly the poor schmucks who just try to make whatever living they can in postindustrial America, the sort of people who attend ITT Tech and DeVry University, the sort of people who had kids before they got out of high school. The sort of people of whom we say "there but for the grace of God -- and my advanced degree/ trust fund/reliable birth control -- go I."

Also among those who perished was 32-year-old Eric Hyer, who once shaved his head and sent his hair to a charity that made wigs for cancer-stricken children. There was 32-year-old Derek Johnson, who as a volunteer at the Make-a-Wish Foundation, saw to it that one very sick kid got to meet Shaquille O'Neal and took another to Disney World. And there was Tracy King, who made millions of people laugh when he went on Late Night with David Letterman and balanced a 17-foot canoe on his chin.

But King was a star compared to the rest of those who perished. And how have the surviving Great White fans of West Warwick, Rhode Island, been faring since Big Media looked away? Not too well, as it happens. Insurance companies are ducking paying out to the survivors. Federal aid was refused -- legally, if ungenerously, and perhaps cynically. More maddeningly, the A-list of the rock community has completely ignored the tragedy, as have those at the highest strata of the recording industry.

Victoria Potvin is doing something about all that. Potvin is a Station fire survivor and also president of the Station Family Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization that raises funds for the survivors and families of the fire. "We've had some wonderful assistance from the local music community, but if it was the real Bon Jovi and not their tribute band or something like that…" Her voice trails off. "Any one of these major rock acts could raise millions of dollars in one night," she continues. "And what would it mean for them, you know?…Very little effort. The Grammys were nine days after the fire, and it was never even mentioned."

According to a recent Rolling Stone article, a Rhode Island promoter tried cobbling together a huge benefit at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence. The biggest names he could get to sign on were Lou Gramm of Foreigner and Starship featuring Mickey Thomas. A week before showtime, the promoter canceled the gig. You couldn't blame him -- only 15 tickets were sold.

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