Lionel Richie says 'Hello' at Astros' charity gala

January 18th, 2020

HOUSTON -- Wearing a sparkly orange jacket with "Hello" written in cursive on the back, Lionel Richie belted out hit after hit Friday night at Minute Maid Park as the headliner at the Astros' annual Diamond Dreams Gala, the club's signature charity event.

For 90 minutes, Richie, whose career began with The Commodores before he broke out as a solo artist in the 1980s, reminded onlookers of a certain age that he hasn't missed a step in the nearly four decades that have passed since the release of his hit album "Can't Slow Down." Richie took 1,400 gala patrons with him on a stroll down memory lane, entertaining the crowd with hits like "Running with the Night," "Easy" and "Stuck on You."

"This is a mighty tall building to try to get up on the ceiling," Richie said, examining Minute Maid Park's spacious dimensions from the makeshift stage set up in shallow center field. It was easy to tell where he was going with this: seconds later, the 70-year-old Richie broke out with his mid-'80s hit, "Dancing on the Ceiling."

It was a night of records -- the ones Richie became famous for, and the ones the Astros set, both in terms of patrons and money raised. The Diamond Dreams gala raised over $2.6 million, a number that could climb before the final tally is determined. That's the most over the five-year history of the event, and the attendance of 1,400 surpassed the previous high of 1,100.

"It really was an extraordinary night,” said Twila Carter, the Astros Foundation's executive director. “We are so grateful for the outstanding support that we receive from so many of our partners in the Houston community. This truly was a team effort."

Proceeds from the event benefit New Hope Housing, an organization combating homelessness by providing housing and support service for those in need, and the Astros Foundation.

"It's a great cause," said team owner Jim Crane, who was also celebrating his 66th birthday on Friday. "We've been working with [New Hope Housing] a number of years, and I think we've had some great impact with the help of our fans and our sponsors to continue to do great things in our community."

The gala has consistently produced an A-list group of performers, beginning with James Taylor headlining the inaugural gala in 2016. Music legends Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and Earth, Wind & Fire have also performed in past years.

For those whose formative years were spent listening to Richie at the peak of his career, Friday's performance was a nostalgic treat. The set list included "My Love," "Penny Lover," "You Are," "Sail On," "Endless Love" (sans Ross), “Three Times a Lady," "Brick House" and "Hello.” He ended the performance with one of his biggest hits, "All Night Long."

At one point, Richie joked that he needed the crowd to help him recall some of the words.

"The more I sing, the more I forget the lyrics," Richie joked. "I'm watching you watching me, and I'm watching you to remember."

Several former Astros players attended the gala, including Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, Astros Hall of Famer J.R. Richard, Brandon Backe, Chris Sampson and Geoff Blum. Among the current players in attendance were Jose Altuve, Josh James, Aledmys Díaz, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Dustin Garneau, Abraham Toro, Myles Straw and Garrett Stubbs.

The Diamond Dreams Gala, held in conjunction with the club's annual caravan and FanFest every year, has always marked the unofficial end of the offseason, as one of the last events before the Astros head to Spring Training.

Given the high attendance every year, the timing of the gala has proven to click with the local fanbase.

"I knew honestly we could stake out our territory and make it an event, a really good party, and we've done that," Carter said. "We've landed in a great place. Everyone has a great time. What more could you ask for?"