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Extended interview: Toby Keith calls in fellow Oklahomans, musical pals for today's Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert

by Brandy McDonnell Published: July 6, 2013
Toby Keith
Toby Keith

A version of this story appears in Saturday’s The Oklahoman. To read more of my interview with Toby Keith about his Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert, click here.

Toby Keith calls in fellow Oklahomans, musical pals for Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert
Keith, who was born in Clinton, raised in Moore and now lives in Norman, will close the sold-out show, which kicks off at 3 p.m. Saturday (today) at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The lineup also includes Owasso residents Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, former Tulsan Ronnie Dunn, Keith’s daughter Krystal Keith, Moore native Kellie Coffey, Willie Nelson, Sammy Hagar, Mel Tillis and John Anderson. Plus, Checotah native Carrie Underwood will give a special performance via satellite from Nashville.

NORMAN — Once he got down to organizing his highly anticipated Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert, it only took Toby Keith a few phone calls to pull together Saturday’s star-studded lineup.

“Growing up in this business … you think about days like this where you feel necessary for being there,” Keith said in a phone interview last week from the road in Oshkosh, Wis. “And all these acts feel that way right now. They’re all glad that they’re chosen, and I’m glad they’re reaching out.”

Keith, who was born in Clinton, raised in Moore and now lives in Norman, will close the Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert, which kicks off at 3 p.m. Saturday at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The lineup also includes Owasso residents Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, former Tulsan Ronnie Dunn, Keith’s daughter Krystal Keith, Moore native Kellie Coffey, Willie Nelson, Sammy Hagar, Mel Tillis and John Anderson.

Plus, Checotah native Carrie Underwood will give a special performance via satellite from Nashville.

“Everybody that’s coming to the show is my first calls — other than Mel Tillis and John Anderson. Mel Tillis called and said, ‘I’m coming and you can’t stop me. I’m 80 years old, and Oklahoma loves my twin fiddles. I’m coming.’ I was like, ‘If you’re 80 and you’re willing to stand in the 100-degree temperature and play fiddle, they’ll love you. So I’m not telling you no, pal. Come on,’” Keith said with a laugh.

“Then, John Anderson called and said, ‘I know your band really good, they know a couple of my songs, and I’m gonna fly in there and do my part. I feel awful for you guys.’”

Net proceeds from the sold-out show will benefit The United Way of Central Oklahoma May Tornadoes Relief Fund.

Garth Brooks (AP file)
Garth Brooks (AP file)

Long-awaited returns

The day after the deadly May 20 tornado devastated Moore, where the water tower is emblazoned with the words “Home of Toby Keith,” the singer-songwriter talked about an all-star benefit concert in national TV interviews. But his initial focus was on helping his hometown, including relatives whose homes were damaged in the EF5 twister.

“Everybody was asking me to take the lead on it, and I just didn’t have time to put nothing together in five or six days. So I said ‘I’m gonna wait at least a month and pick a spot,’” he said, adding he wanted to wait out tornado season for the show.

Settling on July 4 weekend, Keith called up one of the biggest names in Oklahoma music: Garth Brooks. Although they’ve only spoken a few times over the years, Keith said the semiretired superstar was instantly on board.

“One phone call’s all that had to be made and he said, ‘You pick the date and everybody on my end’ll understand and we will be there. And we’re honored that you asked,’” Keith said, adding the two have texted a few times since, mostly to check on each other as more tornadoes tore through the Sooner State.

Brooks, 51, last played in his home state in July 1997, when he performed a series of Oklahoma City and Tulsa concerts. In the midst of his booming career, the Tulsa native retired from touring in 2001, delivered his last record for Capitol Records and moved back to Oklahoma to raise his three daughters. Except for a recent a five-year stint playing acoustic shows at the Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino, Brooks has performed mostly for special or charity events in the past dozen years.

The Yukon-bred superstar will go on at 4 p.m. Saturday, which will enable to him to keep his previously booked return engagement Saturday night at the Wynn Las Vegas, his publicist said in an email.

Carrie Underwood (AP file)
Carrie Underwood (AP file)

‘Herding cats’

Although he doesn’t know her well, Keith also reached out to Underwood and invited her to join the benefit event. Since his fellow Oklahoma native was already booked to play at the Grand Ole Opry that night, their camps arranged for her performance to beam into OU stadium during one of the set changeovers.

“The Grand Ole Opry’s been around a million years, and if you’re a member of the Grand Ole Opry, you have to work so many shows a year,” Keith said. “It’s a big honor and … she wants to do something from the Grand Ole Opry stage.”

With so many big names on the lineup, Keith expects the Twister Relief Concert will boast no shortage of special moments. His daughter, Krystal, who released her debut EP in April, will perform with his band, and Keith also plans to do a duet with Nelson. He said Hagar and Dunn recently recorded a duet for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s upcoming album and are scheming to play together, too.

Plus, press releases have spread rather than quashed rumors of a special grand finale performance as well as a 10-minute fireworks display.

“It’s like herding cats when you’ve got that many artists. … Everybody’s here to perform. We’re not gonna look at the clock; we’re just gonna let it go,” Keith said. “If everybody gets there and wants to mix and match and do a couple of things, then I know it’ll happen.

For Keith, who turns 52 on Monday, his Saturday set will mark his first full concert performance in the Oklahoma City area in about a decade. Over the years, he has trimmed his tour schedule to about 50 shows a year, and he favors mostly outdoor festivals and amphitheaters that accommodate 20,000 to 25,000, which doesn’t leave many options for him to perform close to home.

But the devoted OU fan is thrilled to play a venue close to both home and heart.

“U2 and the (Rolling) Stones and people like that have played in that stadium. You know, I sold Cokes in that stadium when I was 13. I grew up in the shadow of that stadium. In fact, it’s taken a long time because they just don’t do very many shows there, but it’s actually a dream come true to get to do a concert in there. Because that is the throne of my county,” Keith said.

“It’ll be a big event, and I’m completely honored to host it.”

GOING ON

Toby Keith Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert

Featuring: Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Ronnie Dunn, Willie Nelson, Mel Tillis, Sammy Hagar, John Anderson, Krystal Keith and Kellie Coffey. Plus, Carrie Underwood will give a performance via satellite from Nashville, Tenn.

When: 3 p.m. (today) Saturday. Doors open at 1:30 p.m.

Where: University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman.

Tickets: Sold out.

Information: www.tobykeith.com.

-BAM


by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more...
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