Music stars join for Ala. tornado relief concert

June 14, 2011 - 3:57 PM

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Members of the renowned country music group Alabama took it personally when dozens of twisters roared across their home state in April, leaving hundreds of deaths and miles of destruction. Before long they were on the phone, talking about ways to help.

"We just said, 'We've got to do something. It was just a consensus," lead singer Randy Owen said.

As they called friends in the music business, ideas for a benefit show came together quickly. On Tuesday night, Alabama is headlining a sold-out show at Birmingham's civic center arena to raise money for tornado relief and remind people that survivors are still hurting over the physical and emotional damage from the nation's worst tornado outbreak in decades.

"The weather is better and people tend to forget unless they are directly affected," guitar player Jeff Cook said as he and his band-mates were interviewed by The Associated Press before the show. "So it's important that we tell the rest of the people who were luckier in that situation that the need is not over."

The show, called Bama Rising, was being staged just a few miles from ravaged communities where nearly two dozen people died in the twisters on April 27. Officials say 241 people were killed in Alabama alone, and thousands more lost their homes. Across the South the storms left more than 300 deaths altogether.

A rush of support poured into Alabama in the tornadoes' aftermath, but some organizations are now reporting fewer volunteers and dwindling donations.

Bama Rising, however, sold out quickly except for a few $1,000 VIP packages. Proceeds will go through the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham to a new Bama Rising fund established for relief statewide.

Owen, Cook and bassist Teddy Gentry said they would serve on a board to help distribute concert proceeds for tornado relief, and they are looking for other ways to help. Natives of northeast Alabama who are still based in Fort Payne, they say they are particularly interested in helping in rural areas affected by the storms.

The band members said the tornadoes spared them as individuals, but their home county was slammed and their neighbors were hit hard.

"For us, it's a matter of continuing to go out long after this concert," said Gentry. "This is just a drop in the bucket compared to what we need. Things we can do individually or as a group, we're going to be doing that."

Alabama — minus longtime drummer Mark Herndon, who is touring with country singer Leah Seawright — was slated to open and close the 19-act show, which was to feature country singers Rodney Atkins, Brad Paisley and Martina McBride; the gospel group Blind Boys of Alabama; R&B legends the Commodores; rocker Sheryl Crow; and others.

Atkins already has performed at two concerts for tornado relief, but he said he didn't hesitate when his management company contacted him about Bama Rising and the chance to perform alongside Alabama, members of the Country Music Hall of Fame who have had 42 No. 1 singles and sold more than 73 million records in three decades.

"The group Alabama is one of the biggest reasons I got into country music," Atkins said in an interview before the concert. "I listened to their music over and over, coming up. It is such a huge honor to be included in this."

Atkins and other acts are paying their own expenses to make sure the maximum amount goes to tornado relief.

"Hopefully we can relieve some of the stress that goes with going through such a tumultuous situation that turns lives upside down," he said. "It's the least we can do."

Other artists on the bill included Dierks Bentley; homegrown American Idol contestants Bo Bice and Taylor Hicks; Luke Bryan; Sara Evans, Little Big Town, Montgomery Gentry, David Nail, Jake Owen; Kellie Pickler, Darius Rucker and Ashton Shepherd.

Owen said even more acts volunteered to participate.

"We could have had two or three days of entertainment. A lot of people called and wanted to come," he said.