Even though the heat was closing in on 100 degrees, Rutherford and Yountville still produced a great Napa Valley blend last weekend as supporters for mental health and fans of country music star Tim McGraw sallied up more than $2.8 million to benefit mental health research.
The Saturday and Sunday music and wine festival and scientific symposium was held at the Staglin Family Winery in Rutherford.
For the first time in their annual 19-year-old festival, Garen and Shari Staglin’s Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO) and its One Mind for Research affiliate joined forces with the Tug McGraw Foundation for Brain Disorders, headquartered at the Veteran’s Home of California in Yountville.
The collaboration produced a new format, which included Tim McGraw volunteering his performance to assist the Staglins and to honor his father, Tug McGraw, who died of brain cancer in 2004. Tug, a New York Mets icon and North Coast native, helped to form his euphonious foundation only months before he died. It is chaired by Jennifer Brusstar, a co-founder who was Tug’s caregiver, and long-time family friend.
“I’m proud and honored to be a part of this cause, and to be here in the beautiful Napa Valley, to drink some wine and have a grand time,” McGraw said to a foot-tapping crowd of more than 450. He had flown in from an engagement in Michigan to fulfill his commitment to perform at the fundraiser.
“My wife (Faith Hill) sends her love,” he added. “She is a bit ‘P’… with me, because she wanted to come, too, but our daughter was leaving on a special trip, and Faith wanted to help her pack and give her moral support. But we both love the Napa Valley, and we’ll be back.”
In addition to the concert, McGraw helped to raise another $120,000 during the live and silent auctions. One offer was a night in Las Vegas to his concert, as well as dinner with him and his wife. It brought in $30,00. Another, where McGraw sang personally to the bidders who sat on stage, went for $26,000.
He dedicated his final song to the soldiers and veterans of America’s wars: “Live Like You Were Dying.”
But the heat did nothing to stop the party or the donors, as the Staglins along with their children, Shannon and Brandon, provided shade trees, an air-cooled tent shaken with soul and country music, and a well-stocked cave to rehydrate on cult wines and snack on gourmet delights.
The Saturday kick-off began with a two-hour symposium. Dr. Sofia Vinogradov, vice-chair pof the department of psychiatry at UCSF, began by telling how the funds raised by the festival had helped her begin her own research.
“Fifteen years ago, I was one of the first recipients of an IMHRO financial grant of $15,000,” she said. “And, for the time, it was a pretty far-out research project.” Because of the grant and the results, her program has translated into a full research lab, six research projects going on simultaneously, and with outside research funding now averaging $1 million a year.
“We are working to rewire the brain,” she said. “To strengthen and improve neural function. And one of the items being utilized is the computer and its computer games. A sobering fact is that the current tools to treat mental illness is, today, no different than it was 50 years ago — medication and therapy. And neither of these methods is targeting the fundamental problem of brain function, which is at the core of psychological illnesses.”
Vinogradov pointed to research that studied the brain pattern of London taxi drivers. Before they can get their license, these drivers must memorize and detail every possible route, and the shortest route from every point to every point in the city. According to her, the conclusion is that the brain does expand in size as more is learned and memorized. “Like any muscle,” she noted, “you must use it, or lose it. And so, we must think beyond just the symptoms. We must strengthen and improve neural function. The sooner, the better.”
She added that computer games are being used with success on lab tops right at home. “This active training is working,” she said. “The computer can be a great tool and friend to mental health. Treatment at home is now possible. You don’t have to go to an office. We’re breaking down walls. We are maximizing people’s lives.”
Saturday’s gourmet fare was provided by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto of Napa. Following Saturdays concert by Allen Stone, a dinner prepared by celebrated chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto of Restaurant R’evolution, was served among the vines.
Despite the heat and work of the two-day event, the Staglins carried it through with calm: “Our association with the Tug McGraw foundation is fabulous, and we are going to continue with full force. We hope to see Tim back in 2015,” Garen Staglin said. “We’re both working to reduce the stigma of brain disorders. Both working in the same direction to help the people we love; but still have miles to go before we can sleep.”
Brusstar concurred: “It was a great ending to a great weekend that went far to help the cause of mental health problems, and Tim helped us make it happen. The Staglins are wonderful. This [partnership] started as a date, and I think we’re engaged now.”
This past year, the Staglins raised more than $10 million in donations and leveraged funds for mental health; and their total raised over the past 19 years is $157 million. In their 30-plus years of volunteering, they have helped to amass more than $800 million, including the record-breaking $16.9 million raised last June, when the Staglin family chaired at Auction Napa Valley.