News & Politics

A Night Out: YouthAIDS Annual Gala

Stars like Ashley Judd and more turned out for the fourth annual YouthAIDS Gala.

Watch those hands, Sir Bob! Photograph by Darren Santos.

What: YouthAIDS Annual Gala, “The Power of Music.”

Where: Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner.

When: October 3, 6:30 to late.

Who: A cross-section of moneyed and celebrity Washington, including Sheila Johnson, Ted Leonsis, Mark Ein, Kathleen and Chris Matthews, and Septime Weber—plus the usual YouthAIDS crowd, such as Ashley Judd, YouthAIDS global ambassador and founder Kate Roberts, and assorted celebs—from jewelry designer Roberto Coin to tennis player/model Anna Kournikova to Miss Universe 2008, Dayana Mendoza, to reality-TV star of the moment, Suede from Project Runway. Honorees were MTV CEO Judy McGrath, musician/activist Bob Geldof, and singer Annie Lennox, who videoed in after having a back injury. Sharon Osbourne was mistress of ceremonies, and the musical guest was John Mellencamp.

Ticket price: Who was cheap enough to buy just a single ticket? Not this crowd, which raised some $1.2 million—or, as one speaker said, enough to save 120,000 youth in Africa.

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Scene: Perhaps it was the election year bailout-battle royal that shook Washington this past week or the waxing hunting moon, but, a much lower-key crowd than in past years showed up at the Ritz for the fourth annual gala. Whereas previous years featured circus performers on stilts and traditional Indian Dhoonya dancers, this year’s theme, “the power of music,” included a lot of Gibson guitars and a Nintendo Wii set up amid the silent auction so guests could take a turn at the game Rock Band. The crowd had very different interpretations of the dress code—“rock-star chic”—but the most popular seemed to be a T-shirt underneath a fancy tux or suit.

The evening’s emotional high point came when Daily Show correspondent John Oliver gave a hurried comedic warmup introducing his boss, MTV’s McGrath, saying that he thought it was still too early to rule Hillary Clinton out of the presidential race—that “something as trifling as the will of the people” was unlikely to dissuade her from taking the inauguration stage on January 20, 2009. Oliver, whose uncle died of AIDS when the British comedian was 15, was in town for a friend’s wedding and ran out the door as soon as his bit was finished.

The evening’s emotional low point came during lengthy and depressing speeches by Ashley Judd and Bob Geldof about the impact of AIDS and poverty overseas and how the crowd was “living in the lucky world.” Greed, Geldof told the crowd, is not good: “Greed is imperishably stupid.” Given the silent auction items outside ranging from Gucci handbags to trips to St. Thomas, perhaps this wasn’t the crowd most attuned to that message.

The crowd took to the dance floor for a brief acoustic gig by John Mellencamp after Geldof’s 20-minute speech. Mellencamp sang favorites like “Small Town” and “Jack and Diane,” although he improvised some lyrics—in the latter song, he inserted into the chorus: “My wife was 13 when I wrote this song.”

Food highlight: The spicy tuna-cube appetizer.

Main course: Adobo filet mignon, crab cake, and vegetable terrine.

Beverage of choice: Courvoisier Exclusif Cognac, served after dinner.

Sign of the nation’s economic collapse: No one bid on the $17,000 trip to Canada to drive a Bentley recklessly on a frozen lake—not even for the bargain opening bid of $5,000.

Gift-bag contents: Lots of magazines and pamphlets, full-size bottles of Kiehl’s grapefruit lotion and sea-cucumber wash, sunflower seeds (for planting), chocolates, mini-bottles of Jim Beam.

Ratings (See our ratings explanation here):

Boldface names: 4 out of 5
Swankiness: 4 out of 5
Food and drink: 4 out of 5
Overall exclusivity: 4 out of 5

Total score: 16 out of 20

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