By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — He might be just a country boy, but Oklahoman Toby Keith knows how to throw a party. Some of the biggest names in the state are playing at the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and, for once, it’s not football but music that is drawing national attention to Norman.
“It’s a pretty complex situation when you get 70,000 people coming to town,” Sooner Legends hotel owner Doug Kennon said. “It’s almost like a home football game.”
Summer is busy for Norman hotels because of families visiting the university, but the concert date is particularly popular, local hoteliers report. Kennon said a few room reservations were made at his hotel when the concert was announced, and the day tickets went on sale, Sooner Legends was booked.
Organized by Keith, the show sold out within hours and features such big names as Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Ronnie Dunn, Sammy Hagar, Mel Tillis and John Anderson. Oklahoma native, Carrie Underwood will do a set via satellite from the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.
Keith grew up in Moore, lives in Norman, and said he wanted to do something to help the victims of the tornado that hit May 20.
Norman business leaders are getting on board to aid the effort.
“I bought 25 tickets for my employees,” said local restaurateur Hal Smith. “I think there’s going to be a large crowd. I’ve talked to a lot of folks that I know are planning on going. I think it’s going to be a real event.”
Smith’s business interest, Charleston’s Restaurant Group, also donated $100,000 to Red Cross. Smith is a partner with Toby Keith on the county singer’s, “I Love This Bar and Grill” restaurants. Saturday, Toby’s restaurant will provide food for the stage hands and performers — about 500 people — during the course of the concert.
“I can’t imagine it not being a great thing for Moore, Oklahoma as well as for Norman,” Smith said.
On Campus Corner, merchants are unsure how much boost in business they will garner from the show that starts at 3 p.m. and runs until 11 p.m., but they anticipate an influx of foot traffic throughout the day.
“We’re planning on a big day,” said Jeff Stewart, owner of O’Connell’s Irish Pub and Grill.
Campus Corner Merchants will contribute a portion of their proceeds on Saturday to the relief fund. Several merchants have already helped feed the crews that are here setting up for the event.
Ford Trucks, Verizon, Wal-Mart, and the Association for Country Music Lifting Lives are the show sponsors. Those sponsorships will allow 100 percent of ticket proceeds — minus credit card merchant fees and Oklahoma sales tax — to benefit the United Way of Central Oklahoma May Tornadoes Relief Fund to aid recovery efforts.
The doors will open at 1:30 on Saturday.
“Toby did it the right way,” said Smith. “I think its going to be a regional draw.”
The Norman Convention and Visitors Bureau reports that area hotels are seeing an influx of guests in connection with the concert.
Embassy Suites Norman said they have seen a lift in room bookings.
“We’re excited for Norman,” said General Manager Michael Vance. “We’re excited to open up our doors and have a sold out weekend. We’ll roll out the welcome mat to visitors coming to Norman for the event. We’re happy to be part of helping to put the spotlight on Norman for such a great cause.”
The Hilton Garden Inn staff also said they have seen an increase of bookings from the concert.
“Yes, we are booked,” said Mayra Cordero, La Quinta sales manager. “It is a result of the concert.”
Fairfield Inn & Suites is completely sold out and some of those guests are associated with the concert. Hampton Inn is getting full which is not uncommon for the summer, but at least some of those clients have said they’re coming for the concert.
“We’ve had a ton of calls asking for reservations on the sixth,” said Kristi Randall, of Hampton Inn guest services. “It’s normally a real slow weekend for us the Fourth of July and the hotel is totally sold out and very busy on Friday,” said Kennon. “People are coming all the way from Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the concert.”
Sooner Legends donated hotel rooms for crews, staff and the bands. The promoters and set up crews came in days ago.