Willie Nelson, Dixie Chicks perform at private fundraiser (June 23, 2012)

by: Neil Vigdor

The country music legend — of “lonestar belt buckles and old faded Levis” fame — will headline a private fundraiser at the swanky Belle Haven Club June 23, Greenwich Time has learned.

The invitation-only concert will benefit the China Care Foundation, a charity established by Matt Dalio, a Brunswick School and Harvard graduate who is the son of billionaire hedge fund boss Ray Dalio.

The Dixie Chicks, who vaulted to the top of the country and pop charts in 1998 with songs such as “Wide Open Spaces” and “There’s Your Trouble,” will open for Nelson.

First Selectman Peter Tesei characterized the caliber of performers as a testament to the positive work of the foundation, which provides medical care, educational opportunities and a nurturing environment for Chinese orphans.

“Well, they know it’s for a good cause, so they’re probably willing to step up for it,” said Tesei, who is planning to attend the concert.

Nelson, 79, a seven-time Grammy winner synonymous with hits such as “On the Road Again,” “Mamma’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “Always on My Mind,” is the latest A-lister to commit to the annual event.

Previous acts have included Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Sheryl Crow, Carlos Santana and the Allman Brothers.

“It’s a great event that they put on, on our behalf,” said Sarah Cramer, a coordinator for the Westport-based charity.

Farm Aid this is not, however.

The yacht club is located at the far end of a private peninsula with its own security force supplemented by off-duty Greenwich police officers hired by the music-obsessed hedge fund kingmaker.

Admission to the event, where music royalty perform under a large tent against the backdrop of Long Island Sound, is expected to surpass last year’s cover charge of $3,000 a head.

Bootlegging boaters have managed to circumvent the hefty cover, anchoring off the club in makeshift flotillas.

The younger Dalio, who is 27 and is slated to get his MBA from Stanford University this year, formed the nonprofit organization in 2000.

Dalio developed a keen interest in helping orphans after living and attending school in China as an 11-year-old. He became exposed to the orphanage system during a visit when he was 16.

“The whole story of China Care is quite moving in terms of Matt Dalio’s initial thoughts and ideas to do something as a young person and for it to flourish into something as big as it is,” Tesei said.

Dalio’s father is the founder of Westport-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates and the 44th richest person in America on the Forbes.com list of billionaires, up from 55th last year.

A message seeking comment from the elder Dalio, who subsidizes the Greenwich Town Party, a Memorial Day weekend concert in its second year that lured Paul Simon and Dave Matthews, was left Monday at his hedge fund.

In Beijing, the China Care Foundation jointly operates a medical home for handicapped orphans with the Half the Sky Foundation.

There are now an estimated 50 China Care clubs at colleges and schools, including Brunswick, where the Chinese language department was endowed by the Dalio family in 2002.

“We do have a lot of student supporters,” Cramer said.

Both Nelson and the Dixie Chicks are not in the least bit shy when it comes to politics.

In 2003, Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the all-female trio and outspoken critic of President George W. Bush and the Iraq war, told concert-goers in London that she was “ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”

Nelson is a stanch supporter of decriminalizing pot and serves on the advisory board of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

On June 1, Connecticut became the 17th state to legalize medical marijuana.

Nelson also sells his own brand of biodiesel fuel and his tour bus runs on vegetable oil.

So which one of Nelson’s songs is the personal favorite of Tesei, Greenwich’s chief elected official?

You guessed it.

“On the Road Again,” Tesei said.

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