Last night was the ultimate birthday/beach-blanket party - surf, sand and rock superstar Sting. Just as the sun went down, the British musician stepped out on the concert stage in the backyard of the Sandcastle-by-the-Sea mansion and faced a crowd of hundreds of ecstatic beachgoers.
Guitar in hand, Sting immediately launched into 'Message in a Bottle', bringing people to their feet. On the water dozens of boats loaded with people bobbed. A half-moon hid behind clouds. Spectators waded, danced on beach blankets, and sang to the lyrics "a hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore."
This was a benefit concert for the We Are the World Foundation and a 40th-birthday bash for the Sandcastle's owner, Joseph Healey, a hedge fund manager in New York City and a former Warwick resident.
The benefit cocktail party confined to the lawn was by invitation only. But the concert was free to all on the beach.
Moments before introducing Sting, Healey told the crowd that it was one of his dreams to have a big concert and birthday party, and he thanked his family and friends for attending.
But strangers said they were grateful to Healey for the out-of-the-ordinary entertainment.
"The owner has endeared himself to the people of Narragansett," said Ginny DiSanto, 47, who lives in town. "He could have really made this difficult to access, but it's been an incredible night."
This hour-and-a-half concert was also what Narragansett resident Jon Cuser, 47, called the worst-kept secret around town.
The rumors started flying earlier this week after a stage was erected on the Sandcastle's lawn, and more than a dozen police officers were hired for details at the party.
The Journal published an article Friday about the possibility that Sting was the main attraction, and it was like the noninvitation invitation that went out around the state.
Some people staked out their places on the beach yesterday morning.
Sharon Valliere, 47, of Wakefield, and her friends arrived at 11 a.m. and found a good spot on the sand below the beach barrier. They were uncertain that Sting was really going to appear - until they saw him come out and perform a sound-check at 4pm.
He apologized to the beachgoers for drowning out the sound of the ocean, Valliere recalled. But she was thrilled. "We got a good gift. We spent the whole day on the beach, and I get to see him," Valliere said. "It's very generous of him to give a free concert for us."
The performance was organized by musician and producer Niles Rodgers as a benefit for the We Are Family Foundation, formed after Sept 11 to promote tolerance among people from different backgrounds and cultures. The foundation holds one major fundraiser each year to raise money to build schools and provide educational supplies to needy children. Rodgers and Healey are friends.
Wearing a gauzy black and tan shirt and pinstripe pants, Sting sang hits from his solo career and with The Police. The crowd, people mainly in their late 30s and 40s who'd grown up with his music, was thrilled.
"I want to hear the people on the beach," he shouted, and a spotlight shot over the screaming crowd.
People held up cell phones to take pictures and to let listeners on the other end hear that, yes, that really was Sting singing at the beach.
Smoke billowed over the stage, and turquoise lights flashed. Several partygoers danced with the superstar during 'Desert Rose', and then he sang alone 'Every Breath You Take'.
Couples held each other.
Kevin Pelton, 43, and his wife, Christine, of Wakefield, swore they all had better seats on the beach than at the party: "We have the better end of the deal," Pelton said. "The beach is comfortable, we're with friends. I love parties, but we can go swimming and they can't."
Sting's last song was 'Fragile', which he has dedicated in the past to a friend who died in the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.
The concert ended at 9:45pm, 15 minutes before the town curfew. Healey walked onto the stage and took a bow with Sting and the band.
As they left and the lights went out, the crowd broke into song.
They sang Happy Birthday to Healey.
© The Providence Journal by Talia Buford & Amanda Milkovits