In her biggest hit, Sheryl Crow sings about how all she wants to do is have some fun. It can be a tough time right now to make fun happen, but Crow will do what she can for those who tune in Saturday to a virtual version of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s annual holiday gala.
The gala has been going strong for 45 years as one of Seattle’s biggest single fundraising nights. As with events of all sizes in all places, the COVID-19 pandemic flipped the script this year. While the in-person event usually attracts 800 people to the Sheraton Hotel ballroom, and raises between $ 8 million and $ 13 million in a night, Saturday’s online version will flow a bit differently.
The streaming event, called “Celebrating Fearless Science,” will be a combination of inspirational videos, Crow’s mini concert, and familiar hosts ushering things along for an hour and a half. And the crowd has the potential to be twice as big, as the gala is open to anyone who wishes to watch, and 900 households have already registered.
“Due to the pandemic and the virtual nature of everything, we had to really think about how to reinvent it,” said Kelly O’Brien, vice president of philanthropy at Fred Hutch. “We wanted to make this more of a community celebration. Without the limitations of a ballroom, we kind of look at it as, ‘How do we build a bigger table?’ ”
Fred Hutch is using the event to celebrate everyone who has made a commitment to science, research and healthcare, from its own scientists and doctors to caregivers in the community to those who support the work. And that audience of supporters is growing beyond those who have traditionally backed the Hutch’s race for a cancer cure. Everything it is doing in the name of COVID research – tracking and modeling the virus’ spread, developing diagnostic tests, designing vaccine trials – has attracted new attention and followers since March. Researchers even uncovered genetic details of an outbreak at the White House.
While the institution’s South Lake Union campus has become an epicenter for important work on the pandemic, Fred Hutch has also had to deal with staying safe by limiting what type of work can be done in person and how many people are allowed in its various labs.
Fred Hutch typically hosts 25 to 35 events in a year, ranging from big fundraisers like the holiday gala and the summer Obliteride to campus tours and events in people’s homes and out of state. They’ve figured out during the pandemic what can be done virtually, like the Hutch Award Luncheon. Virtual town halls have also featured President Thomas Lynch and scientists discussing such things as COVID research.
“The pace of our events has probably increased in the last nine months, we’re just doing them a lot differently,” O’Brien said.
Crow, a nine-time Grammy winning singer and songwriter, was originally going to perform at a Fred Hutch gala in 2014. But she had to back out a couple days before the event because of strep throat.
“She’s always been on our wishlist,” O’Brien said, calling Crow “a bit emblematic of the toll the pandemic has taken.” Crow is a breast cancer survivor, she’s a mom to two boys who are learning at home, and her livelihood – playing live music – has been upended by the health crisis. “We just felt like as a person and as an entertainer, she really resonated.”
The hope is that the dancing that normally would occur in a hotel ballroom could still occur, in people’s living rooms, as Crow has pre-recorded a 25-minute concert from her barn / studio in Nashville, Tenn. The singer will also do a 5-minute conversation with co-host Fred Northup.
“We’re conscious of the fact that fun is a little bit hard to come by right now,” O’Brien said. “It will feel intimate and it’s only available Saturday night. The recording will not be shared out after, so anyone that wants to see her should definitely be with us Saturday. ”