Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sold-out tornado relief concert raises money, hope

The band Alabama plays at the tornado relief concert Bama Rising at the Birmingham-Jef­ferson Civic Complex on Tuesday.
The band Alabama plays at the tornado relief concert Bama Rising at the Birmingham-Jef­ferson Civic Complex on Tuesday. 
BIRMINGHAM -- Open­ing with chilling video of a killer tornado and a pray­er, country superstars Ala­bama headlined a sold-out concert Tuesday night to raise money for storm re­lief and remind people that thousands across their home state are still hurting from the physical and emo­tional damage left by the nation's worst tornado out­break in decades.
Accompanied by a church choir and the sym­phony orchestra from hard-hit Tuscaloosa, mem­bers of the renowned band from Fort Payne had the crowd of 13,000 standing from the start with favor­ites like "Dixieland De­light" and a new song writ­ten by bassist Teddy Gentry called "Alabama Rising." The recording goes on sale this morning on iTunes, with proceeds to benefit a relief fund for storm survivors.
"Raising Alabama only takes three: The good Lord, you and me," sang Alabama frontman Randy Owen, a hand raised sky­ward.
Alabama was only one draw on a bill that included 18 more acts from rocker Sheryl Crow to gospel greats The Blind Boys of Alabama.
The show, called Bama Rising, was staged just a few miles from ravaged communities where nearly two dozen people died in the twisters of April 27. Of­ficials say 241 people were killed in Alabama alone, and thousands more lost their homes.
Waiting on the music to begin, Julie Kreutz of Hoo­ver said she was happy to pay $75 each for floor seats for her parents and 6-year-old daughter.
"If it will help someone get a roof over their head, that's fine," said Kreutz. She grew up in Walker County, where nine people died in the twisters.
Holding a small Alabama flag and wearing a "One for Y'all" T-shirt sold to raise money for storm as­sistance, Children's Hospi­tal nurse Katherine Kent recalled treating some of the 60 bloody, battered storm victims who flooded the emergency room the night of the tornadoes.
"That's why I'm here, to support them," said Kent.
The members of Alaba­ma took it personally when dozens of twisters roared across their state, leaving a trail of destruction more than 600 miles long. Before long they were on the phone, talking about ways to help.
"We just said, 'We've got to do something.' It was just a consensus," Owen said in an interview with The Associated Press be­fore the concert.As they called friends in the music business, ideas for a benefit show came to­gether quickly. Guitar player Jeff Cook said he worried about people for­getting about the devasta­tion of that awful day.
"The weather is better and people tend to forget unless they are directly af­fected," Cook said. "So it's important that we tell the rest of the people who were luckier in that situa­tion that the need is not over."
A rush of support poured into Alabama in the torna­does' aftermath, but some organizations are now re­porting fewer volunteers and dwindling donations.
Bama Rising, however, sold out quickly except for a few $1,000 VIP packages. Proceeds will go through the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham to a new Bama Rising fund established for relief state­wide.
Owen, Cook and Gentry said they would serve on a board to help distribute concert proceeds for tor­nado relief, and they are looking for other ways to help. Natives of northeast Alabama who are still based in Fort Payne, they say they are particularly interested in helping rural areas hit by the storms.
The band members said the tornadoes spared them as individuals, but their home county and neigh­bors were slammed.
"For us, it's a matter of continuing to go out long after this concert," said Gentry. "This is just a drop in the bucket compared to what we need. Things we can do individually or as a group, we're going to be doing that."
Alabama -- minus long­time drummer Mark Hern­don, who is touring with country singer Leah Sea­wright -- planned a finale that featured all the acts including country singers Rodney Atkins, Brad Pais­ley and Martina McBride; R&B legends the Commo­dores; and others.
Atkins already has per­formed at two concerts for tornado relief, but he said he didn't hesitate when his management company con­tacted him about Bama Rising and the chance to perform alongside Alaba­ma.
"The group Alabama is one of the biggest reasons I got into country music," Atkins said in an interview before the concert.
Atkins and other acts are paying their own ex­penses to make sure the maximum amount goes to tornado relief.
Other artists on the bill included Dierks Bentley; homegrown American Idol contestants Bo Bice and Taylor Hicks; Luke Bryan; Sara Evans, Little Big Town, Montgomery Gen­try, David Nail, Jake Owen; Kellie Pickler, Dari­us Rucker and Ashton Shepherd.

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