On Friday night, I had the opportunity to attend “Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas: A Benefit Concert for Hurricane Harvey Relief,” in the beautiful city of Austin, Texas. Aware of the tragedy that struck its neighbors along the coast, local companies and organizations in Austin banded together to host the largest live concert benefit in Texas and broadcast a portion of the event, presented on-air as a telethon, across 11 Texas stations and internationally on YouTube. To viewers beyond the Frank Erwin Center walls, the broadcast had a different name, “Texas Strong: Harvey Can’t Mess with Texas,” but the purpose was all the same – to rebuild Texas.
Proceeds from the actual event as well as the broadcast ultimately benefited the Rebuild Texas Fund, a fund created by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the OneStar Foundation. With Google matching the first $500,000 of donations, volunteers from Google’s Austin office and TEGNA staffing the phone banks, companies like C3 Presents donating its production expertise and services, and PayPal graciously waiving processing fees for the donations, the fundraiser was able to rake in over $1.6 million before the telethon even aired.
For those that couldn’t make the event or missed the broadcast, you can still donate here and continue to help rebuild Texas.
As for the actual Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas event at Frank Erwin Center, here’s a glimpse into the 4+ hour, star-studded, live music bonanza.The evening began shortly after 7 p.m. and immediately I knew I was in for something special when Matthew McConaughey strolled out onto the stage and welcomed everyone to the arena with a casual “alright, alright, alright.”
The first portion of the evening, lasting until about 8:30 p.m., entailed filming the soon-to-be telethon, which would air at 9 p.m. across Texas and worldwide on YouTube. To no surprise, this segment of the evening was fast-paced and jam-packed with celebrity appearances and performances. Only one or two very minor technical difficulties reminded the audience that the segment was being taped for the broadcast – for example, McConaughey took the audience “back in time” and repeated a few rehearsed lines in an attempt to make the televised portion seamless, a necessity when trying to raise funds.
As seen on networks across Texas, the broadcast included a message from Governor Greg Abbott, some words of encouragement from Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler, cameos from Texas celebrities like Luke Wilson and Renée Zellweger, requests for donations from sports icons like Vince Young, pleas from celebrity couples like Andy Roddick and Brooklyn Decker, and heartwarming stories from heroic first-responders like Houston’s Chief of Police Art Acevedo. If that wasn’t enough, the broadcast featured incredible musical collaborations from the likes of Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Leon Bridges, Lyle Lovett and many many more. What I would argue was the truly amazing portion of the evening, however, came shortly thereafter.
Around 8:40 p.m., Lyle Lovett took the stage and swooned the entire arena with hits like “Blues for Dixie” and “That’s Right You’re Not from Texas,” a tune written for “all the good folks that moved to Texas from other places,” according to Lovett. Continuing to capture the hearts of the audience, Leon Bridges then stepped out to perform both unplugged and with the help of the house-band of the evening, Asleep at the Wheel. The performance included songs like “River,” “Coming Home” and “Lisa Sawyer.”
Moving the evening right along, sisters Hannah and Ashley of Ha*Ash followed Leon and performed their hearts out after having recently lived through the earthquake down in Mexico City just days before the performance. With minds focused on tragedies of late, the sisters’ harmonies and powerful Spanish lyrics resonated with a sense of great emotion throughout the arena. Sparing no time, the event crew immediately re-set the stage after the sisters’ exit and made way for the incredible Ryan Bingham. In his signature raspy, weathered voice, he expressed his sympathies for those affected by Harvey and his gratitude to be able to “help some people down on the Third Coast.” Though quick, his stint on the stage appropriately included hits like “Hard Times,” “Hallelujah” and “The Weary Kind.”
After Bingham, the attention of the audience briefly turned back to the telethon as Vince Young took the side-stage and urged fans to continue donating. During his request, the event crew again re-set the stage for the one and only Edie Brickell – wife of Paul Simon and American singer-songwriter – marking her first appearance in Austin in 17 years. During her sentimental set, Edie turned to her bass guitarist and back to the audience as she told fans about his amazing, heroic rescue efforts during Harvey. A Texan native, Edie’s sadness and sentiment for the victims of the hurricane were palpable throughout the arena.
Edie soon thereafter faded into the back curtains and made way for Grammy award winning singer-songwriter-guitarist Bonnie Raitt. Joined by the likes of Jimmy Vaughan and Dixie Chicks violinist Martie Seidel (who collaborated in several other performances), Bonnie certainly had not shortage of material to wow the audience with. To close out her performance, the great James Taylor joined the epic collaboration and performed the classic “Thing Called Love.”
James Taylor lingered on stage at the end of Bonnie’s performance for his own set and only made it through two songs, “Sweet Baby James” and “Up on the Roof,” before being joined by Raitt for yet another collaboration. Taylor closed out his performance with the incredibly appropriate “Wasn’t That a Mighty Storm” – a 1900’s tune about the Hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Texas.
The time was now around 10:00 p.m. and there were no signs that the evening was bout to slow down. In fact, I would argue that the next performer, Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats, increased the energy of the arena nearly ten-fold when him and his group opened their set with “S.O.B.,” a fiery tune comprised of vibrant humming, shouting, stomping and clapping. During the set, Ryan Bingham joined briefly for a vivacious dance-off with Rateliff and Bonnie Raitt yet again took the stage for another epic collaboration.
The time was now 10:40 p.m. and we were informed there were still more performances ahead. The tail-end of the evening flew by as Little Joe Y La Familia continued to build the energy of the crowd for the final performances of the night: Paul Simon and Willie Nelson.
Simon took the stage immediately after Little Joe and played hits like “The Boxer” from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album and “Me Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” which included an impressive whistling solo by wife Edie Brickell. Easing the tension in the final hour of the evening, the couple performed a lively version of “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” comprised of bantering verses back and forth between husband and wife.
As to be expected, the one and only Willie Nelson closed out the evening with crowd favorites like “Still is Still Moving,” “Still Not Dead” and “Roll Me Up” as well as nods to the great Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard during performances of “Good Hearted Woman” and “It’s All Going to Pot. The final song of the evening was a beautifully drawn out performance of “I’ll Fly Away” and became the greatest collaboration of the evening as the musical greats slowly made their way on stage and joined Nelson in the singing the final song of the night.
I think the event as a whole can be summed up in one word: Unbelievable.