TURLOCK -- Danielle Friedberg thought it was nice of her dad to buy her a meet-and-greet opportunity with rocker Bret Michaels at the Stanislaus County Fair this summer.
But rather than the handshake and photo that's typical of such events, Michaels and Friedberg got to talking about tattoos, particularly the one on her left arm of a puzzle piece that honors her 5-year-old autistic son and the teacher who is helping him succeed.
"He pulled me aside and asked about my son," Friedberg said of Michaels, frontman for the band Poison. "I was really, really moved that he was caring about the situation."
So interested was Michaels that he invited Friedberg, her family and the teacher to come see him the next time he was in the area. That turned out to be Friday, when Michaels played in Concord.
He followed through on his invitation, surprising Friedberg.
"His manager contacted me last week and said, 'Are you guys ready?' " she said. "I was blown away that they actually remembered."
Friedberg took her son, Brandon, and her parents to the concert. Unfortunately, Brandi Baker, the Crowell Elementary teacher who so helped Brandon that he enrolled in traditional kindergarten this year, fell ill and couldn't make it. Michaels signed a photo for Baker and said his invitation remains open the next time he comes around.
Michaels said he always tries to take the time to talk meaningfully with people who come backstage to meet him at his appearances. "I don't always have hours, but I can take a few minutes," he said Monday. "I'm very thankful to the people I meet."
Michaels said many of the conversations center around music, what songs the fans enjoy and why. But sometimes they go a little deeper, as happened with Friedberg.
"It was a really, really beautiful story," he said.
Before Friday's concert, the family and a teacher's aide from Crowell met with Michaels, who gave them a tour and invited Brandon on his bus.
"He was a little shy," Friedberg said. And because Brandon experiences social anxiety, he also was a little uncomfortable in the crowd.
"Bret chose to bring him on the bus privately," Friedberg said. "He brought him into a quiet area and talked to him."
Michaels asked Brandon how the little boy knew him. " 'Guitar Hero,' " Brandon answered, according to his mom. Brandon is a fan of the video game, which allows players to rock out along with their favorite bands.
"He got to put on the little Poison bandanna," Friedberg said. "It was really awesome. (Michaels) is a really sweet, down-to-earth guy."
Michaels returned the compliment to Brandon. "I really just bonded with the kid," he said. "He was great."
In recent years, the hard rocker has made a second career for himself, working for charities that support research into diabetes, a cause close to his heart, because he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 6. He competed in and won this year's version of NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice," raising money for the American Diabetes Association.
He's planning to go back for an all-star edition of "Apprentice."
"I'm going to win it for the Bret Michaels Life Rocks Foundation," he said. The foundation serves four charities, helping children with cancer and diabetes, the Wounded Warriors program and no-kill shelters.
Asked about his choice of verb "win" rather than "compete" Michaels laughed. "I just never think I'm going to lose," he said.
Whether it's high-profile activities like the reality TV show or meeting a young fan one-on-one, Michaels said he's grateful for the opportunity to help people in ways large and small.
"I bring awareness, I hope, sometimes," he said. "But it's the family and the teachers, the people who do the work every day, who deserve the credit."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343.