Inside HFC Rocks, the Alts Industry Charity Concert (And Foreigner’s Smallest Gig in Years)

Dean Backer and Mike Vranos jammed out to “Jukebox Hero” at Sony Hall on Thursday.

Photo by II

Photo by II

Dean Backer is mere feet away from Foreigner, singing along to “Jukebox Hero.”

The Goldman Sachs executive is not at a stadium show, as one might expect. Instead, he’s among 400 other alternative industry members and their families at Sony Hall, raising money for a good cause.

In addition to his day job as Goldman’s chairman of global prime brokerage, Backer is the global board chair at nonprofit Help for Children, once known as Hedge Funds Care. Ellington Management’s Mike Vranos spearheaded the organization’s annual HFC Rocks charity show, and tapped veteran rock band Foreigner to play in New York on Thursday night.

“It’s about the kids, the music, and coming together,” Backer said by phone.

Institutional Investor reported live from the event to find out just what it’s like to attend a rock concert alongside members of the alternatives industry.

The night starts with blues. Opening act Larry McCray, the legendary guitarist from Arkansas, is playing loud enough to nearly drown out the din of investors networking and talking with their families and friends.

Drinks are flowing, accompanied by sliders, egg rolls, and lo mein eaten out of Chinese takeout containers and chopsticks on the concert hall floor. Up front, a few dancing crowd members are warming up their moves before Foreigner takes the stage.

Ahead of the show, in a conversation with Institutional Investor, Vranos explained why he got involved. He recalled that back in 1999, when HFC’s founder Rob Davis was encouraging him to join, Davis said: “If your kid has cancer, everybody knows. If a kid is being abused, nobody knows.”

HFC aims to tackle child abuse in a variety of ways. “Our portfolio is very diverse because we hit on advocacy, direct services, education, and research,” said Sumudu Waas, Waas, executive director at COO at HFC. “That way we get all the components of abuse prevention. That’s unique to our foundation.”

Vranos, who spearheaded his first HFC concert in 2017, said that his goal is to give attendees an enjoyable night. They donate ahead of time through ticket sales — with higher donations giving guests access to VIP seating, among other perks — and HFC keeps solicitations for donations at the event minimal. In years past, Joan Jett, Billy Idol, Counting Crows, and the Goo Goo Dolls have performed at the fundraiser. In sum, these shows have raised $2.8 million, according to the organization.

At this year’s concert at Sony Hall, the room goes dark shortly before Foreigner takes the stage. The band basks in applause before playing the opening notes of “Double Feature.”

Kelly Hansen, the band’s lead singer since 2005, is close enough to touch. The audience, already singing along, opts instead to pull out their phones. Hansen vamps for the cameras and even rubs the head of the front-row investor who has been taking photos and videos throughout the night.

Early on, Hansen guesses that the band is playing one of its smallest shows ever — or at least in years. And that’s obvious in some ways: the group’s performance style carries the energy of a band playing a stadium show. At one point, Hansen does jumping jacks on stage.

Highlights of the show include Michael Bluestein’s keytar solo (Hansen breaks out a cowbell during it, naturally), as well as the band’s performance of “Jukebox Hero.”

“When I heard the opening chords of ‘Jukebox Hero,’ it took me back to one of my first concerts ever — Foreigner at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island for their Jukebox Hero tour,” Backer said via email after the show. “It reminded me of some amazing memories. Looking out at the packed venue, you could feel the energy from the crowd, celebrating great music in support of the prevention and treatment of child abuse.”

The show wraps up with a sing-along to “I Want to Know What Love Is” and an energetic rendition of “Hot Blooded,” through which many of the attendees danced and hugged. The event raised “well over” $500,000, according to Lynn Fisher, senior director of development and events at HFC.

After the show, Vranos said: “The entire night was outstanding and for such an important cause. I thought that Larry McCray’s cover performance of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Sugaree’ was sublime.”

And HFC’s timing couldn’t have been better: Just days after performing at Sony Hall, Billboard reported that Foreigner announced that it would tour for the last time in 2023.