There’s nothing that the Santa Barbara glitterati seem to love more than a dramatic show of philanthropy posed as a family affair where they can spend as much on wine as I do on one month’s rent.
I recently witnessed this phenomenon in Kevin Costner’s backyard on the night of Friday, September 22, for One805 Live — an annual fundraiser founded after the 2018 debris flows to provide first responders with new equipment and other support that would otherwise be out of budget. The event raised $1 million this year, thanks to the charitable guests who shelled out $350 to $12,000 for their tickets.
With all the local celebrities on the bill — Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Adam Levine, and two other members of Maroon 5 — it was one of Santa Barbara’s most star-studded parties of the year. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they began filming an impromptu talk show.
However, for me, it felt more like a Seinfeld episode. It’s taken me two weeks to recover from being hit over the head with their $14 margaritas. Seriously, what’s the point of being a journalist if you have to pay for your own drinks?
As the party bus pulled up to Costner’s ocean-view estate along the picturesque Carpinteria Bluffs, I was surprised by how familiar the setting was: food trucks, porta-potties, long lines branching out from an understaffed bar tent. I thought it’d be more glamorous.
When I realized it looked like a typical outdoor music festival, only one thought was going through my head: I shouldn’t have worn heels.
I miraculously avoided rolling my ankle journeying downhill to the main event space, where I noticed some ritzy, distinctive twists — a charming bakery selling sweets and a high-end pizza stand with a wood-fired oven were tucked between the trucks.
Reluctant to endure a 20-minute line, I made a beeline for a smaller bar with no customers, only to find it roped off. It was a slap to the face. The lone bartender was just out of reach, confined to the lavish VIP tents separating the wealthy guests from the rest of us lounging on blankets and lawn chairs.
After resigning myself to wait in line for the $14 specialty cocktail I would never receive (they were sold out of the “Maroon 5 Margarita” by the time I reached the bar), I watched as the man in front of me, sporting a ponytail and a Hawaiian shirt, flirted with the woman beside us and accused her husband of “robbing the cradle.”
It was not the kind of festival I was used to, where drunk children in band T-shirts shove each other around in mosh pits. Costner’s guests were older and dressed in a more affluent, leisurely style — straw hats, brown leather jackets, Chelsea boots, Patagonia pullovers.
They were still drunk, though.
Costner, himself clad in a bohemian ensemble, got kudos for donating his 10-acre estate to the event. Without disclosing the price of the property, he noted that, for celebrations like One805, it was “worth every penny.” In reality, it’s worth around $60 million.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The event started off with a series of thank-you’s from Santa Barbara County’s first responders.
“When disaster strikes, the people on this stage become one team,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown. “We can’t do what we need to do on our meager county and city budgets alone.”
Following more kind words from County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig, he gave a shout-out to any retired military or first responders in the crowd — but not without joking that there were probably very few actually there to hear it, as they wouldn’t be able to afford a ticket. (A round of applause for that playfully snarky, political onion of a comment.) Nevertheless, around 100 first responders had their tickets covered by generous attendees, according to a One805 spokesperson.
Once everyone had expressed their immense gratitude to our local philanthropists, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle presented “Heart of the Community” awards to Costner and other benefactors — marking the royals’ first official event appearance in Santa Barbara since moving into their $21 million Montecito mansion in 2020. I won’t lie: I brought up about seeing them in person.
It’s easy to crack jokes about rich people using fundraisers as a pretext to host parties, but the money raised does help a good cause. These contributions are earmarked for mental-health initiatives and much-needed equipment for first responders, whose work is seriously underfunded.
For every $1,000 raised, One805 vowed to purchase a thermal camera for a county firefighter. In addition, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from local charities, One805 said they are also purchasing six advanced drones, including three waterproof search-and-rescue drones to enhance first responders’ water and back-country rescue capabilities.
Firefighter Sam Dudley and his emotional support dog, Rhonda, joined Oprah onstage to discuss One805’s counseling services for first responders and shared a poignant account of mudslide rescue efforts. Dudley said those devastating memories “played on a loop” in his mind for a long time, but after learning about One805’s mental-health services, he was able to see a counselor and begin to work through some of that trauma.
Also, I have to admit that a few other wholesome scenes made it through my cynical camera lens unscathed. Couples were dancing with their shoes off; teenagers congregated with a slightly mischievous, jovial air about them; older folks in cowboy hats grooved like no one was watching; and children were running around playing with glow sticks.
I can get a kick out of poker fun at Santa Barbara’s alien displays of wealth, but I’m not made of stone.
As for the music, it was good (Jeff “Skunk” Baxter can really shred), up until David Pack from Ambrosia fell and busted his lip open onstage.
Then it was great.
No other words spoken that night stuck with me more than those uttered from the wounded lips of an old rock star. “When you fall, you get up, and when you bleed, you taste it.”
Being the follow-up to that inspiring performance must have been daunting. Good thing it was none other than John Fogerty, the musical genius behind the band Creedence Clearwater Revival. He’s still as cool now as I assume he was in the ’70s.
His set was full of electrifying, American rock classics. Never would I have thought I’d see “Fortunate Son” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” played live by the man who wrote them. It was the main benefit of the benefit concert.
Then Ellen DeGeneres made her first joke. I think, in any other setting in Santa Barbara, it may not have gone over so well. At least it carried a hint of self-awareness around the event’s semi-embarrassing extravagance.
“We’re here to celebrate the hardest working people in this town,” she said. She paused for the cheers that erupted from the crowd, before finishing with “Real estate agents.”
After that came “Maroon 3.” Two of the 5 maroons were missing, but it didn’t matter.
Maroon 3 played acoustic versions of some of their early hits, and I relived a portion of my childhood that was easy and sweet when the radio was full of pop songs that were all fun, catchy, and simple.
People gave me looks, and I definitely wouldn’t call myself a die-hard Maroon 5 fan, but belting out those classic, top-40 lyrics scratched a nostalgic itch I didn’t know I had.
That joy quickly dissipated. It was a long wait for a shuttle back to the parking lots, and people were drunk, tired, and anxious to get off Costner’s lawn. I eventually decided to walk, but weaving through those impatient party-goers was physically and emotionally laborious.
All in all, it was an interesting event with some great performances, all for a noble cause.
My only piece of advice: Next year, take it easy on the booze, lest you end up pulling a reporter’s hair and threatening to rip out her nose ring because you think she cut you in line on the way out.