By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Thousands were in a fever pitch Saturday as Toby Keith’s Twister Relief Concert kicked off at the University of Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium.
The sold-out crowd cheered with palpable excitement in anticipation of hearing a star-studded lineup including Keith, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Willie Nelson, Sammy Hagar, Ronnie Dunn, Krystal Keith, Kellie Coffey, Mel Tillis and John Anderson as well as Carrie Underwood via satellite from the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.
Keith, Moore native and Norman resident, was effected personally by the May tornadoes, with both a sister and sister-in-law hit by the storms. After seeing the destruction first hand, Keith said he knew he had to do something to assist with recovery efforts. Though Keith described the concert planning process as “herding cats,” he said efforts were well worth it for all proceeds to go toward the United Way of Central Oklahoma May Tornadoes Relief Fund.
“It’s all about love today,” Keith said.
The concert began at 3 p.m. with Krystal Keith singing the national anthem, complete with a jet fly over.
After a short set by Tillis and Coffey, Brooks took the stage and was greeted with audience members with their hands in the air, singing along to every one of his songs.
Brooks, Oklahoma native, said he and his wife, Yearwood, were happy to be a part of relief efforts, and gave credit to all contributing in rebuilding efforts throughout the state.
“The healing process starts today,” he said. “Now let’s smile. Let’s be joyful.”
Special guests between sets included OU football coach Bob Stoops and former coach Barry Switzer, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione, City of Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis and Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin.
Between performances the audience also watched artist one-on-one interviews led by concert emcee Storme Warren, photo montages of tornado destruction and local news reels of tornado stories.
Norman resident Alisha Young, in attendance with her husband, Guard, said she is a big country music fan. Though anticipating seeing some of her favorite musicians was exciting, knowing she was helping at the same time has made the experience all the sweeter.
“I hope the tornado victims feel all the support and love from everyone here. My heart goes out to the them,” she said. “If I can help them and go to a great concert at the same time, I’m all in.”
The nearly eight-hour long event wrapped up with performances by father-daughter duo Toby Keith and Krystal Keith.
Ford Trucks, Verizon Wireless, Academy of Country Music Lifting Lives and Walmart sponsored the event. In addition to sponsoring the concert, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have committed $1 million to Oklahoma tornado relief. Sponsorship donations and underwriting of the concert, and donated services from suppliers and vendors from all over the country, will allow the net proceeds of tickets (after tax and credit card fees) to benefit the United Way of Central Oklahoma May Tornadoes Relief Fund to aid recovery efforts.
Donations are currently being accepted for the United Way of Central Oklahoma May Tornadoes Relief Fund. Give by credit card at unitedwayokc.org or by calling 523-3598, 523-3597 or the United Way of Central Oklahoma’s main number at 236-8441. Checks may be mailed to the United Way of Central Oklahoma, P.O. Box 837, Oklahoma City, OK, 73701, with notation for May Tornadoes Relief.
Fund dollars will be distributed without administrative fees to United Way Partner Agencies working on the tornado relief efforts. Agencies must clearly prove services provided and demonstrate need for financial support. Organizations that receive United Way disaster fund assistance will be evaluated and held strictly accountable. The May Tornado Relief Fund will serve not only immediate needs, but intermediate, and long-term care for years to come.