Toby Keith was working on a summery new single in a Nashville recording studio on the stormy spring day when the second EF5 tornado in almost 15 years ravaged his hometown.
“As we were leaving (Max) Westheimer Airport, I could see it building back in the west, and I said, ‘Man as soon as we get there, we need to keep an eye on that,'” Keith said, recalling how he opened his iPad weather app when he got to the Tennessee studio.
“Sure enough, it was a tornado on the ground headed for Moore. And then I saw it cross the interstate at Fourth Street, and I knew that that was my old neighborhood and where all my peeps live. You think funny things when you see 'em on the ground. You're thinking, ‘Man, I hope it goes north of my sister,' but by hoping for that, it's gonna hit someone else, you know?”
The day after the deadly May 20 tornado devastated the community, where the water tower is emblazoned with the slogan “Home of Toby Keith,” the country music superstar appeared on national television talking about plans for an all-star benefit concert.
Saturday, he will keep his word at his sold-out Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert, featuring Keith, his daughter Krystal Keith, Owasso residents Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, former Tulsan Ronnie Dunn, Moore native Kellie Coffey, Willie Nelson, Sammy Hagar, Mel Tillis and John Anderson, plus a special performance by Checotah native Carrie Underwood via satellite from Nashville.
The one-day festival will pack the stands at the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. Net proceeds will benefit the United Way of Central Oklahoma May Tornadoes Relief Fund.
“The show's gonna be big, and it's an honor to even be a part of it, let alone host it,” said Keith, who also organized a benefit show after the 1999 EF5 tornado that ripped through Moore. “God bless all the people that lost loved ones and were injured, and I hope this concert starts a healing point for everybody the best it can.”
‘You're just thankful'
On May 19, the singer-songwriter, who was born in Clinton, raised in Moore and now lives in Norman, was on high alert at home when a tornado formed in rural Norman near Lake Thunderbird and tore through Pottawatomie County. It was just the first of several tragic storms that would rampage through his home state over the next two weeks.
“We were sure surrounded there for a few days,” Keith said by phone from a tour stop in Oshkosh, Wis.
As he watched the May 20 tornado from afar, he called his sister, who had fled south to Pauls Valley with their mother. His sister soon called back to say that the tornado had crashed into her Moore home.
“They just gotta rebuild,” he said. “Some people like my sister were fortunate enough that the shell was still standing, so ... they got what was left of it tarped up and boarded in, and she got out her valuables.”
Others weren't so lucky. The May 20 tornado killed 24 people, including Shannon Marie Quick, 40, of Moore. In the days after the tornado, Keith visited Quick's son, Jackson, 8, who was badly injured while riding out the storm in a closet at home, at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center.
“He's a strong little guy. When you see stuff like that, you're just thankful that possessions were the only things you lose,” he said. “People like Jackson, they'll have that emotional and physical stuff to deal with for a long time and maybe for the rest of their lives. But he's alive, and I know his dad's grateful for that.”
People like Jackson (Quick), they'll have that emotional and physical stuff to deal with for a long time and maybe for the rest of their lives. But he's alive, and I know his dad's grateful for that.”