By ADAM NAGOURNEY -BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — He walked on stage in sunglasses, an earring glittering in one ear. The days of jumping on piano benches were presumably behind him. Still, in 16 songs that lasted more than 90 minutes Wednesday night, Sir Elton John offered a robust private concert to a relatively intimate audience gathered under a tent on an estate in the Hollywood Hills on a cool California evening.
The cause for this fundraiser — extravagant even when measured against Hollywood events — was the legal fight to overturn Proposition 8, the California voter initiative that banned gay marriage. At the end of the night, as the crowd headed to a long line of waiting limousines and shuttle vans, Rob Reiner, the director and a leader of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, announced that the event had raised $3 million.
“Everybody: Welcome to history,” Mr. Reiner said
The makeshift concert hall for Sir John was an elaborate tent, lined with curtains and backlit with soft lighting. There were about 500 assigned chairs, two video screens and a mini-camera perched on the right side of the keyboard, offering viewers high-definition proof that even at age 63, this is one versatile pianist. The screens were almost not necessary; there was no bad seats in this house.
Sir Elton opened with “Sixty Years On” and ended with a “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” in a set that drew heavily on his early work: “Holy Moses,” “Levon,” — which drew the first of several standing ovations — “Rocket Man,” a syncopated version of “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Bennie and the Jets.” There was a particularly heavy representation from his breakthrough album, Elton John, which was released in 1970 before many people in this audience were born. Nonetheless when he took the stage, even some of the young waiters rushed over from another tent, snapping pictures.
Sir Elton did more singing than speaking, yet made clear that he recognized the political ramifications of the event and his role there. He is openly gay and, as he noted, he and his partner had a son on Christmas day. He was at turns politic and caustic in his description of politicians and church leaders who oppose gay rights.
“As a gay man, I think I have it all: I have a wonderful career, I have my health, I have a partner of 17 years, and I have a son,” he said. “But I don’t have the respect of the church or politicians who says I’m less worthy because I’m gay.”
He denounced them with an obscenity, voiced twice, drawing loud cheers from the crowd
Sir Elton was also remorseful in describing how he responded, as a younger gay man before he had gone public, to the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, mixing criticism with the American government with personal remorse. “The American government was AWOL,” he said. “And I was AWOL.” He said the government’s response had been a disgrace. “And I was a disgrace as well.”
The tent where Sir Elton performed was one of two set up on the sprawling estate known as Green Acres, the mansion owned by Ron Burkle, the business entrepreneur and fundraiser. The second tent was for the reception before the concert, where waiters passed around platters of food — pear and brie pastries, smoked chicken tartlets, sweet sashimi in cones — and bartenders served drinks, to attendees who paid $1,000 a head to attend.
(Those who paid more were ushered into a more exclusive reception, inside Mr. Burkle’s house, with Sir Elton and the politically eclectic group that helped organize the event. Those included David Geffen, the Hollywood mogul, Ken Mehlman, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee who announced last year he was gay, and Chad Griffin, a one-time low-level aide in the Clinton White House who is now the board president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights and who Mr. Reiner credited with recruiting him for this movement.)
The attendees included the two the adversary-turned-ally attorneys in the case, David Boies and Theodore B. Olsen, who represented opposite sides in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court case over the disputed Florida results in the 2000 presidential election that resulted in George W. Bush’s election as president. Mr. Boies represented Al Gore and Mr. Olsen represented Mr. Bush; it seems fair to say that this crowd had been rooting for the losing attorney in that case.
“Ted and I have an agreement,” Mr. Boies said. “I am going to get the four justices I got in Bush v. Gore. He’s going to get the five justices he got in Bush v. Gore. We’re going to win this case nine to nothing.”