Blake Shelton led an all-star cast of performers into Oklahoma City on Wednesday night to perform at “Healing in the Heartland: Relief Benefit Concert.”
By 10:08 Central Time, before the show aired on the West Coast, the concert had raised $3.7 million for the United Way of Central Oklahoma’s May Tornadoes Relief Fund, said Stacey D. Stewart, U.S. president of United Way Worldwide, who was in Oklahoma City for the benefit. That amount also was tallied before numbers from ticket sales and an auction came in, she said, so organizers were expecting it to be higher.
The lineup included four high-powered Oklahoma country stars: Shelton, an Ada native; his wife and fellow Tishomingo resident Miranda Lambert; Reba McEntire, who hails from Chockie; and Vince Gill, who was born in Norman and raised in Oklahoma City.
Rain-soaked crowds swarmed into the Chesapeake Arena wearing ponchos and carrying umbrellas just in time for the concert to kick off at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Oklahoma City.
It was televised live on NBC starting at 8 p.m. and that part of the show included heartfelt pleas to donate and stars that referred to things like “Oklahoma’s strong hands and compassionate hearts,” as Toby Keith said on video.
Before the televised part, Team Usher and Team Blake from “The Voice” opened with the national anthem and Gov. Mary Fallin, United Way representatives, Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis and others offered thanks and support for to tornado victims, first responders, volunteers and their community.
“We teach each other to love one another, to protect one another and take care of one another,” Lewis said. “That is called the ‘Oklahoma Spirit.'”
Against backdrops of photos and stories from the storms and recovery, Blake Shelton kicked off the televised portion.
“I know you came through another freakin' storm just to be here,” Shelton said to rally the wet but enthusiastic crowd. He started the concert with “God Gave Me You.”
Also performing were Ryan Tedder of pop-rock band OneRepublic; and country stars Rascal Flatts, which includes guitarist Joe Don Rooney, of Picher; and country performers Luke Bryan and Darius Rucker. Pop star Usher, whose sister lives in Oklahoma City, also performed, including a duet with Shelton, “Home” as images of the tornado’s destruction showed on a screen in the background.
Rucker sang “True Believers," which included the line "We are one heartbeat in the darkness.” McEntire, “Everyday Heroes” and Vince Gill, “Threaten Me With Heaven.”
Sending messages of support and calls for donations by video were Carrie Underwood, Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, Garth Brooks, Toby Keith and Trisha Yearwood, among others.
But the real fun began after the televised show was over. Shelton played host to a rousing party of musicians who came back for more songs – Rucker, McEntire, Bryan, Lambert and Usher. While the first half of the concert focused on the tornado relief efforts, Oklahoma’s compassion and strength and raising money to help, the second act served to give people a chance to loosen up and forget about the tragic events of the past week.
“Man it’s good to play music in Oklahoma,” Shelton told the revved-up crowd after singing “Honey Bee.” He noted it was going to be a “jam session from here on out. ... This normally would be a very expensive jam session.”
Highlights included Shelton and McEntire singing a duet of “Oklahoma Swing” and Lambert’s second appearance, which she began by apologizing for breaking into tears during the first act. During that appearance, she sang “The House That Built Me” against an emotional photo montage that recognized the efforts of the Central Oklahoma Humane Society to find the owners of animals lost in the tornadoes.
“I’m sorry I cried,” Lambert said, referring to her first performance. “I tried real hard not to. But we are here to blow off a little steam.”
After Lambert sang favorites like “Love’s Given Up On Me,” she praised her husband for his efforts and gave him a long hug.
“I’m really proud of you for making all this happen tonight,” Lambert told Shelton before she walked off stage. “And you’re really hot, too.”
“Everyone has their way to help, and mine as an entertainer is to perform to help raise money and awareness for this tragedy,” said Shelton, a coach on NBC's hit reality show “The Voice,” in a news release. “This is why I want to do this special and especially hold it in Oklahoma City, which is near ground zero.”
Working with its local community partners, United Way of Central Oklahoma will use the fund for immediate, intermediate and long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts in Oklahoma following the tornadoes that devastated Moore on May 20.
Love's Travel Stops underwrote the concert cost. The Oklahoma City-based company previously announced last week was earmarking $1.5 million of a $3 million total donation to fund a benefit event.