Rock stars in Bonita: ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, 38 Special's Don Barnes play private show

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

They rocked the stage for three hours Saturday and cranked out hit after hit: “Sharp Dressed Man.” “Hold On Loosely.” “Saturday in the Park.” And many more.

But you couldn’t get tickets for this star-studded Bonita Springs concert featuring ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, 38 Special’s Don Barnes and other classic rockers. It was a private event for the employees of Fort Myers company South Florida Gas.

The Southwest Florida Event Center concert doubled as a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. All the rock stars are big contributors to the hospital, says venue co-owner Jennifer Shanahan.

Previously: Southwest Florida Event Center reopens this March in Bonita Springs

Easter events: Egg hunts, the Easter Bunny and more things to do in Lee County

ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons played a private concert Saturday, April 9, at Bonita Springs' Southwest Florida Event Center. The show was attended by employees of South Florida Gas and raised thousands of dollars for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons played a private concert Saturday, April 9, at Bonita Springs' Southwest Florida Event Center. The show was attended by employees of South Florida Gas and raised thousands of dollars for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The audience raised at least $15,000 for St. Jude, Shanahan says, adding that the totals are still being calculated. That doesn’t include another $15,000 raised earlier this year by the venue’s in-house charity, Kidz 4 a Cause, started by Shanahan’s 10-year-old daughter, Sutton.

Sutton displayed her oversized, $15,000 check for St. Jude onstage at the concert. Jason Scheff, longtime singer/bassist for rock band Chicago, even showed her how to fill it out and sign it, Shanahan says.

Sutton started her charity a few months ago and can’t believe it’s doing so well. They raised most of the money at two previous concerts at the Southwest Florida Event Center.

“I’m very, very, very excited,” Sutton says. “I didn’t know we could raise that much money in such a short of an amount of time."

Saturday's concert wasn’t a fundraiser for Kidz 4 a Cause, but everyone involved had the same love for St. Jude and its mission of helping kids with cancer, Shanahan says. “We all came together, because St. Jude is what brought us together. These guys give so much time and treasure to St. Jude.”

38 Special singer/guitarist Don Barnes (pictured) and other classic-rock stars played a private concert Saturday, April 9, at Bonita Springs' Southwest Florida Event Center. The show was attended by employees of South Florida Gas and raised thousands of dollars for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
38 Special singer/guitarist Don Barnes (pictured) and other classic-rock stars played a private concert Saturday, April 9, at Bonita Springs' Southwest Florida Event Center. The show was attended by employees of South Florida Gas and raised thousands of dollars for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The concert featured performances by Gibbons, Barnes, Scheff, Better Than Ezra lead singer Kevin Griffin and Nashville country-rock act Sixwire. Roots rocker/bluesman RJ Howson played a pre-show in the venue's lobby.

About 260 people attended the concert, Shanahan says. And they all seemed to be transfixed by the exclusive, invitation-only concert.

“They played for over three hours,” Shanahan says. “And I’m not quite sure if anybody even got up to get a refill of their cocktail.”

The setlist for the star-studded private concert held Saturday, April 9, at Southwest Florida Event Center.
The setlist for the star-studded private concert held Saturday, April 9, at Southwest Florida Event Center.

Representatives of St. Jude were supposed to attend the concert and accept Sutton's oversized check from Kidz 4 a Cause, but they ended up not being able to make the show, Shanahan says. Sutton decided to display the check onstage, anyway.

“She wanted to show them that maybe she’s the next generation of giving to St. Jude,” Shanahan says.

ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons poses with 10-year-old Sutton Shanahan at Saturday's Southwest Florida Event Center concert. Sutton raised more than $15,000 for St. Jude Children's Hospital over the last few months through her charity Kidz 4 a Cause, and she displayed the check onstage at the show.
ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons poses with 10-year-old Sutton Shanahan at Saturday's Southwest Florida Event Center concert. Sutton raised more than $15,000 for St. Jude Children's Hospital over the last few months through her charity Kidz 4 a Cause, and she displayed the check onstage at the show.

As co-owner of the venue, Shanahan got up close and personal with all the rock stars. She even picked up Gibbons at the airport the day before the show.

She and the ZZ Top singer/guitarist spent a lot of time talking about St. Jude and also Kidz 4 a Cause, she says.

“He is a magical human being, let alone a stellar musician,” she says. “He was very insightful about ways to contribute to other people. …

“He is a complex intellectual who has possibly the biggest heart I’ve ever met in a rock star.”

To learn more about St. Jude, visit stjude.org. Learn about Kidz 4 a Cause at kidz4acause.org.

Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at crunnells@gannett.com or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, 38 Special's Don Barnes play Bonita Springs show