It's Thursday night at B.B. King's in New York City's Times Square, and the place is rockin'. A nine-member band is onstage, complete with brass, bongos, the works. Women, some in stylish form-fitting tunics, others in black dresses, dance by the stage with men in checked button-down oxfords tucked into pleated khakis, some with suits and no ties.
It's Hedge Fund Rocktoberfest—an annual concert featuring bands and soloists from the hedge fund investment community. The band The Subscribers are onstage, featuring members of Octagon Asset Management, Lazard Asset Management (LAZ), Brownstone Asset Management, Société Générale Asset Management, and three other firms. They're belting out These Boots Are Made for Walkin'.
The song choice is peculiar. That's because behind them on projector screens, interspersed between the logos of the event's corporate sponsors, are images of Indian children with club feet and prosthetic legs.
That's because the hedge funders are throwing the event to raise money for some of the most disadvantaged people in the world: poor children who have been born with deformed limbs or had their limbs amputated. Mead Welles, founder of Octagon Asset Management, started the charity in 1999 after a trip overseas to identify investment targets for his fledgling fund brought him into direct contact with the children's plight.
Funds for Prosthetics
For the last few years, the charity has sponsored benefit events catering to the hedge fund community, including Hedge Fund Polo tournaments and a Hedge Fund "Hunks" date auction. (Welles insists he wasn't aware this was planned, though he did go for $1,200 in the auction. He's now engaged.) The charity uses the money to help doctors in the developing world fit impoverished children with the prosthetics they need.
So far, 311 children have registered to receive prosthetics and 157 children have received them, all through the work of the three-year-old charity. He calls the organization "A Leg to Stand On." Now, for the third year, he and bandmate Chris Heasman of Lazard Asset Management have organized Hedge Fund Rocktoberfest. It continues to grow each year, and this year was attended by 1,040 people and raised $250,000 for the charity.
How else could you get yourself onstage in one of the best venues in Manhattan, in front of a thousand people? You make yourself the benefit concert. Get your lucrative financial-services firm to kick in a sponsorship—$10,000 for the "Gold" level that includes 10 tickets for the firm and any clients. Then tell your broker, your lawyer, your accountant, or anybody else who depends on you and your mountains of cash for their livelihood to kick in and buy some tickets themselves, too—for needy children!
Then buy a bunch of tickets yourself for your buddies. You've got enough to rent out all of B.B. King's for six hours in no time, complete with a full open bar, plenty of hors d'oeuvres, and a buffet. Not to mention a ton of money left over for the kids. Getting slotted to perform, says Welles, depends on how much money the band can commit to raise for A Leg to Stand On, as well as on how well they play. About 60% of the tickets sold are bought as large blocks, usually by the sponsoring firms, he says.
The result is a packed house of portfolio managers, analysts, traders, investment bankers, lawyers, auditors, and more than a few blondes. Everybody yaks loudly by the back bar of the main room, jerkily nodding their heads to the music and taking pictures of the band with their cell-phone cameras in the front of the room next to the stage. Some drift over to chat quietly at Lucille's Restaurant, the smaller concert stage where the acoustic acts play.
Photographers circulate. "Want to put my phone number next to my photo?" jokes one woman who gets her picture snapped. Another one makes the same crack five minutes later. Several men announce they are missing Game 7 of the Mets vs. St. Louis series to be here. A true badge of sacrifice.
Everyone is sucking back the beers they've plucked from the buckets of ice the staff carry around, gulping canapés, and chatting about who's performing and the good cause. "The drummer, he's worth like, $30 million," breathes one pretty young financial consultant after The Bull Path Jammers finish their set.
Backstage after the set, The Bull Path Jammers are kicking back, packing up their stuff, and passing around whiskey and taking swigs. It's a bottle of Bushmills Irish Single Malt, aged 16 years. "Hard to find an Irish single malt!" says the keyboardist. The band, composed of Brownstone Capital's Roy Ophir, Bull Path Capital's Rob Kaimowitz, and five others, is getting ready to join the crowd to watch the five bands that remain. "You were right on," the keyboardist tells the lead singer.
It's 9:40 p.m., and The Subscribers go on. It's the band started by Welles and Heasman, whose first benefit concert in 2003 ended up growing into today's Rocktoberfest. Unlike the others, they get a full hour for their set. As they charge onstage, the regular spotlights go down. Flashing, twisty blue and red ones come up. Machines begin to pump out plumes of steam.
This is the real rock-star experience. The lead singer, Timothy Wheeler of Lowenstein, Sandler P.C., takes the microphone full-tilt forward, grasps it with his right hand and then with both as he belts out Message in a Bottle by The Police. Men and women crowd in front to dance. The Subscribers take the audience through hit songs from the 1960s and '70s.
Money Never Sleeps
Then, "Give up your love for Laaaa-zzzzaaaaard!!!" A friend from Lazard Asset Management joins them to sing The B-52's Love Shack. Four young women wearing short black pleated skirts, fishnet stockings, and tight white tank tops take to the stage. Their tank tops are each emblazoned with the word "Subscribette." They begin to go-go dance.
The Subscribers finish. The crowd roars. The normal spotlights come up on the stage, and the next band, StoneHedge, heads up to follow them. There are still two more bands left to play, but as people get another drink or two, they begin to head home. By the time the last band, a group called Miles to Go (with Mario Manna from fund Moore Capital), goes on at 11:30 p.m., the place is almost empty. About four or five people are left on the dance floor.
"By 11 p.m., everyone is either thinking about their 4 a.m. train ride the next morning or the fact that the Tokyo markets are now open," says JAM Partners LP vocalist Tim Seymour, of Red Star Asset Management. His group kicked things off with a set at 6:30 p.m., what he calls a more "choice" spot, given the hours of the finance crowd. It's OK to be a rock star at night, so long as it doesn't conflict with managing that hedge fund during the day.