The annual YouthAIDS Gala at the Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner once again gathered local well-heeled society and issue-conscious celebrities, headed by Ashley Judd, last Friday to raise money to fight HIV/AIDS.
Although there was no life-size balloon elephant at the entrance upon arrival like last year, guests were met by decked out teen greeters, with spiked pink hair, punk accessories, strapped with Gibson guitars and setting the mood for the night’s “Power of Music” theme.
The dress code as stated on the invitation of this year’s fourth annual gala was “rock star chic” and the crowd, for the most part, made an effort to comply. Most men forewent the normal tuxedos, at least replacing the dress shirt and bow tie with a t-shirt under their suits. As for the ladies, ornate ball gowns were left in the closet and most opted for a sexy and even hip look. Overall, the funky dress code added to a more relaxed atmosphere, less formal than last year’s “Bollywood” themed attire, although nothing too over-the-top draped the dapper guests.
Before dinner, attendees mingled in the anteroom, perusing the plentiful silent auction offerings. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Kiehls and, of course, the evening’s host, the Ritz Carlton all donated items, along with two rooms full of others. There was also a live auction during the ceremony, which again proved more sedate than last year’s bidding wars. Everyone seemed a little tighter on the purse strings, as some items went by without bid.
As guests entered the dining area, they were offered temporary tattoos, dragons for the dangerous, butterflies for ladies. Many happily accepted and allowed the ink pushers to wet, tag and peel for them, giving those that partook the feeling that maybe for one night they were hardcore rock stars. It added an element of frivolous fun to the proceedings. Planners hoped that if guests felt wild enough to get a tattoo, they would also feel liberated enough to add another thousand to their donation.
Sharon Osborne acted as mistress of ceremonies. Osborne’s personality and fiery demeanor are impossible to ignore. She proved a peppy presenter and ran a smooth show.
As the YouthAIDS Global Ambassador, Ashley Judd made a long and moving speech. Judd recalled her visits to impoverished AIDS-riddled countries and brought the group to a somber, reflective silence. She shared her story of adjusting to life back in the states after such trips were difficult for her personally. When she returned home from a recent mission, she suffered a type of post-traumatic stress, which she was continuing to work through.
The ceremony continued, honoring individuals who contributed in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Judy McGrath, Chairman and CEO of MTV Networks received an award for facilitating music’s role in broadening social barriers. Keeping with the night’s theme, in protecting young people from the disease, music, they said, is a leader in raising consciousness among an often difficult to reach age group. The music industry’s influence over the youthful generation, organizers argued, is great and therefore their devotion to social change is essential and much appreciated in meeting the goal to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in the world.
Honorees also included Annie Lennox, a Grammy award-winner and activist, who could not attend the event due to illness, but sent a message via video, asking that guests help in the fight against the virus. Lennox is best known as the lead singer of the popular 80s duo the Eurythmics. In 2005, Lennox performed at Live 8 in London, free concerts used to raise awareness of issues facing Africa. Addressing the British House of Commons in 2006, Lennox called for the education of children in the United Kingdom. She stressed the importance for British children to learn about Africa, enabling those young people to understand the lives of youth in a third world country who are suffering poverty and disease in Africa, as compared to their own.
An award was presented to Bob Geldof, KBE, who previously received an honorary knighthood as Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) from Queen Elizabeth II. Geldof is an Irish singer, famous primarily as a member of the Boomtown Rats. He also starred as Pink in Pink Floyd’s classic 1982 film “The Wall.”
In 1984, Geldof organized the star studded performance of a holiday song for charity. He co -wrote “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” raising funds for starving children in Ethiopia. The song went on to become one of the best-selling singles of all time. Geldof continued his work for charity, organizing the amazing Live Aid concerts, which raised over $150 million for famine relief.
As the originator of the Live 8 project in 2005, Geldof continued to use the influence and popularity of music to help others. To further raise awareness of the issues facing Africa, he is a prominent member of the Africa Progress Panel, which focuses attention on Africa and brings its needs to light, ensuring help from world leaders. In 2006 and 2008, Geldof was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
From the political realm, U.S. Ambassador William J. Garvelink attended. He is a long-time Falls Church resident, who was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in October 2007. Garvelink was interviewed by the News-Press just previous to taking office last year. The DRC is plagued by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is one of the issues Garvelink faces in his position. He showed his understanding of the issue and concern by attending the fundraiser with his wife, Linda.
Prominent local attendees included gala chair Sheila Johnson and Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. On hand were various celebrities such as famous Italian jewelry designer Roberto Coin, model and tennis player Anna Kournikova, Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza from Venezuela, host of MSNBC’s “Hard Ball,” Chris Matthews and from “Project Runway,” reality TV personality, Suede.
As a special musical performance, John Mellencamp appeared to play a too short acoustic set, but one that did include the old favorite “Jack and Diane.” It seemed that when the crowd started to get moving to the beat, Mellencamp hit the road.
Dinner consisted of spicy tuna, a trio of petite entrees, filet mignon, crab cake and vegetable terrine and a fluffy dessert adorned with a white chocolate “Power of Music” square, with logo.
Georgetown cupcakes provided a rainbow of mini-cakes in flavors like chocolate raspberry and coconut. Some of the cakes were topped with bright purple icing, while others were decorated with the AIDS awareness red ribbon of sugar. To cap the evening on something other than a sweet note, a snifter of Courvoisier Exclusif cognac also appeared on the table.
The after party, just downstairs, was headed up by DJ Lady Miss Kier of Deee-Lite, a club/dance group best known for their 90s hit “Groove is in the Heart.” Again, the room was more sedate than last year. There was a lot of open floor to dance and the crowd was sparse.
Even the gift bag contents, usually chuck full of exciting goodies, were a little light. Attendees agreed that the contents were bland as compared with previous year’s offerings, the highlight being a couple Kiehls products and sunflower seeds. Plus, some bags contained items that others did not.
And truthfully, much of the grandeur of yore was lacking from this year’s festivities. It was as if everything was taken down a notch. If the gala was a bit duller, perhaps it was in reflection of the current economic situation.
Nonetheless, the event was a success, raising $1.2 million to benefit the fight against YouthAIDS, and that is a gift above all critique.