5-29-13 doesn't quite pack the same ring as 12-12-12. But the date's significance carries a sadly all-too familiar resonance.
On Wednesday night, six-plus months after the concert to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy at New York's Madison Square Garden, major musicians will take the stage of Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena to raise funds for those who lost all in the deadly May 20th tornado that ravaged Moore, Okla.
The “Healing in the Heartland: Relief Benefit Concert” marks the latest in an unfortunately too-long line of shows bringing the music community together to help provide much-needed comfort and aid in the wake of disaster. This time, the call to duty is being answered by organizer Blake Shelton, who is giving voice to the suffering people of his home state.
WATCH: "Healing the Heartland," an all-star benefit from Oklahoma will be broadcast live on NBC at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT, and livestreamed on this site.
More than just geography lends Shelton the opportunity to help in a big way: The country superstar's celebrity has expanded in the last two years thanks to “The Voice,” NBC’s hit singing competition show. Blake, blessed with quick wit and a dry sense of humor, comes across as smart, affable and fair, giving him fans far beyond his core country music base.
Thanks at least in part to “The Voice,” he now possesses the heft to attract not only a sizable audience, but top performers, like fellow “Voice” coach Usher. The concert, to be broadcast 9 p.m., Eastern time, on NBC, E!, Bravo and other stations, also includes Darius Rucker, Rascal Flatts, Vince Gil and Miranda Lambert, who is married to Shelton.
With the telethon concert, Shelton joins a vaunted club of musicians-turned-humanitarians that stretches to George Harrison and 1971's “The Concert for Bangladesh.” Over the years, such efforts have grown in sophistication – and regularity – beginning with 1985’s cross-Atlantic “Live Aid” benefit, which gave Bob Geldof renown and purpose far beyond the Boomtown Rats.
The sobering list of benefit concerts for victims of everything from famines to earthquakes to hurricanes to tornadoes gets longer with each new tragedy. There’s a danger, especially in our media-saturated age, of the public becoming desensitized to the havoc – challenging benefit organizers to move fast while heartbreaking images are still fresh in the collective memory.
That’s part of why Shelton’s work in helping mount “Healing in the Heartland” just nine days after the country’s latest weather-related catastrophe is as impressive as it is inspiring. Music can’t heal, but it can hopefully kick-start the long recovery process, as performers show solidarity and raise some money. Credit Shelton not only for giving voice to the people of Moore, but for affording the rest of us an opportunity to listen.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.