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You too can rent a rock star

Birthday party? Sure. Corporate celebration? Of course. Bat mitzvah? Name the time. All it takes is a bundle of money. A big bundle.

January 11, 2007|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

TYCOONS trying to impress will pay millions for a Picasso or Pollock, so why not splurge on a living, breathing Jagger? Or hire rapper 50 Cent to drop by the mansion and perform "Get Rich or Die Tryin' "? Now that will get them talking down at the country club.

That's the loud and lavish sensibility behind the hottest party accessory around -- the rentable rock star.

Grammy-winning superstars of every stripe are available these days for holiday parties, weddings or bar mitzvahs, whatever, just as long as there's a boatload of money waiting for them. Actually, make that a yacht-load of money.

On New Year's Eve, for instance, British pop star George Michael was in Russia making about $3 million an hour singing for a few hundred guests of Vladimir Potanin, a mining and lumber magnate. The gig was 75 minutes, and he was home in London by lunchtime.

Last weekend, pop diva Christina Aguilera and Oscar winner Robin Williams were in Pittsburgh as the hired entertainment at the birthday party of Joe Hardy, founder of 84 Lumber. Both stars are veterans of the lucrative circuit. Aguilera took a reported $1.5 million to serenade another Russian businessman, Andrei Melnichenko, at his September 2005 wedding. Williams, who reportedly fetches a cool $1 million for a night's work, joined the Rolling Stones and John Mellencamp in Las Vegas in 2002 at the birthday soiree for David Bonderman, co-founder of Texas Pacific Group, a private equity investment firm. The reported price of the affair: $10 million.

And check out the lineup of stars that David H. Brooks, a defense contractor in Long Island, N.Y., hired for his daughter Elizabeth's bat mitzvah at New York's Rainbow Room in 2005: 50 Cent, Aerosmith, Don Henley, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks and Ciara. And during the pre-show cocktails, Kenny G provided some burnished background music. Again, the bill hit a reported $10 million.

That made Brooks and Bonderman the free-spending leaders of the pack, but don't be surprised if some other billionaire one-ups them in the next few years. Opulent affairs with rock heroes are regular occurrences now during the party seasons, especially in Russia and the Middle East but also in Manhattan and in the Bay Area, where the stock-option windfalls of the dot-com era are still being spent.

Robert Norman, who heads the corporate and private events division for Creative Artists Agency, said last year that his division handled 500 events. Many were $100,000 to $200,000 corporate affairs with acts such as Seal, Hall & Oates, Styx and the Go-Go's. But about a quarter of the CAA bookings were private social events, a good number of them with staggering budgets.

The volume of business in that rarefied sector has surged dramatically in recent years. It's now quietly commonplace for A-list stars to sing to middle-aged billionaires as they blow out candles.

"You have a lot of people who want to celebrate their 40th or 50th birthday party and have someone there whose music meant a great deal to them during a part of their life," Norman said. "They have the money, and if they are willing to spend enough of it, they can get the Rolling Stones. Their wives might also say, 'I love Green Day, and I want them for the 30th birthday party.' You can make that happen these days."

The notion of Grammy-winning artists moonlighting as wedding singers at the peak of their careers would have been scoffed at a decade ago. But times and taboos change. Now, according to Norman, it's rare to find an artist who won't at least peruse the offer sheet.

"It's common knowledge that Bruce Springsteen and U2 won't do it, and, really, there are very few others," he said. "And some people that have said no then watch that offer go up and up to such heights that they finally decide they will go ahead and do it but give a chunk of it to a charity. Then everybody is happy."

It's hard for artists to say no when they get to dash off to exotic locales to do low-sweat, secret shows, said Jim Guerinot, the manager for Gwen Stefani, Nine Inch Nails and the Offspring.

"It's quick cash for the artist, that's what it comes down to," Guerinot said. "It can be these unbelievable amounts of money offered by someone like the sultan of Brunei or some sheik somewhere who's willing to pay what you make for being on tour for three weeks.... You really have to evaluate each one the way you would any corporate opportunity."

THIS mansion-concert circuit can be traced to the 1990s era of corporate event bookings when the Stones, Elton John, the Eagles and even Bob Dylan plugged in for Fortune 500 companies looking to add major zing to their in-house gatherings.

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