NEW YORK ( — Just 24 hours before preparing to rock out for two straight days at a sold out Madison Square Garden, singer Dave Matthews reached into his South African roots and warmed up for an intimate, private charity gig benefitting his native homeland at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Thursday night.

Matthews, along with anti-apartheid singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela, played to a crowd of 650 at the Ubuntu Education Fund’s Annual Gala. The fund benefits sexually abused and orphaned South African children, providing them with a safe haven and the means for a promising future with a sound education.

A surprisingly nervous Matthews, his hands clutched to his pockets during his introduction, conceded to the audience that playing to crowds of 20,000 was a lot easier than playing for the cozy gathering. Still, he belted out fan favorites Bartender, Grace is Gone, Crush, Save Me, and You & Me. He wrapped up the small set with the song Everyday, joined by Mahlasela, before coming back out to play Don’t Drink The Water (he originally began strumming the always popular Ants Marching before changing his mind) for an encore.

The event drew the backing of numerous celebrities, including Robert De Niro, Kyra Sedgwick and hubby Kevin Bacon, Donna Karan, Pharrell Williams, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. New York Jets players Mark Sanchez and Nick Mangold attended the event, along with the New York Giants’ Justin Tuck.

“It’s so great. I’m thrilled. It was a very small organization and it’s taken them not very long to be the hot ticket, so I’m thrilled for them,” Sedgwick told “It’s very grass roots. We’re always into supporting the grass roots organizations. What could be more grass roots, what could be more substantive than teaching young people and taking care of these kids that otherwise would be completely abandoned?”

Fund co-founder and president Jacob Lief told that he hoped to raise $2 million through the event, which cost attendees $1,000 per plate.

“We drew a 7 kilometer radius around a community of 300,000 people, sort of like the Harlem Children’s Zone up here, and decided, what does it take to get these kids out? Well we learned that it costs a lot of money and that it’s a daily intervention over the course of 15 or 20 years. And if you do that, the answer is that vulnerable child can actually make it to a university,” he said.

For more information on the Ubuntu Education Fund, click here.