Taylor Swift Delights Nashville, Raises $750,000 for Tornado Relief Efforts

She Opens Final Tour Dress Rehearsal to Nashville Audience for Charity

Taylor Swift invested countless hours to prepare for the North American leg of her Speak Now World Tour. And after opening her final tour dress rehearsal in Nashville to the public on Saturday night (May 21), she helped the storm-ravaged Southeastern states invest $750,000 into their own communities.

After the first two songs came off without a hitch, Swift told the audience that during breaks from her previous rehearsals, she watched the news and saw people in the Southeast losing their homes and loved ones to tornadoes.

“I felt like if it was possible to help them in any way, we should do it,” she said.

The $750,000 figure is based on ticket sales alone, Swift told the audience at Bridgestone Arena, adding that all merchandise sales (which hadn’t been counted yet) will also go toward the fund. Swift also donated a red souvenir T-shirt to everyone who attended the concert.

“I cannot tell you what a difference you are making in the lives of our loved ones in the Southeast,” she added.

Clearly, Swift is already leaving her mark on the hearts of a young generation. Families crowded into the rows with lots of little girls immediately draping themselves in the red shirts and singing to every word. One gets the feeling that she will be a landmark musician for their generation.

Swift kept the banter to a minimum, although she’ll never be able to say she doesn’t savor the crowd response. (“You have never looked more beautiful!” she dramatically announced.) With her alternating looks of awe and nods of satisfaction, some might say she was milking it. But at the same time, it must be overwhelming to know you can nearly fill an arena on two weeks’ notice — especially when you’re already booked there for two nights in September. She’s also headlining the CMA Music Festival’s nightly concert in downtown Nashville on June 12.

On the Speak Now tour, a casual Swift fan will especially appreciate the familiar hits and dazzling special effects. (In particular, “Sparks Fly” would make an outstanding concert video.) In the middle of the set, Swift relies heavily on her new album, Speak Now, so if you haven’t heard it or didn’t like it, you might get a little restless at the halfway mark.

Instead of mixing in early hits like “Picture to Burn” or “Should’ve Said No,” Swift offers theatrical versions of slow songs like “Last Kiss.” On this particular outing, she surrounds herself with a nine-piece band and eight dancers. On “Back to December,” it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Later on, you could swear it’s the Fourth of July.

More times than not, your eyes are drawn to the scenes unfolding behind the singer. On the back-porch backdrop for “Mean,” she calls to mind The Andy Griffith Show. And with “Haunted,” she seems to be paying homage to the music video for the 1983 rock hit, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

Needless to say, her core audience does not have the same pop culture touchstones that I do. In fact, I had to ask about the words written in elegant script on Swift’s arm. Apparently it is a lyric from a Selena Gomez song — “You have every right to a beautiful life.”

Without giving too much away, fans will see elaborate props descending from the ceiling and plenty of surprises shooting out of the floor. And her ever-changing wardrobe canvasses the rainbow: red, white, purple, gold, silver, black, etc. In other words, the extensive (and presumably expensive) production value makes Phantom of the Opera look like community theater, yet Swift manages to keep the show grounded with her original songs.

Of course, Swift didn’t stop the show for a do-over. Everything ran smoothly. When the big curtain fell after the encore, it swished at the bottom for a few seconds. And just underneath the hem, I could see a cluster of feet jumping maniacally with excited squealing wafting into the nearby rows. Something tells me she’s ready to hit the road.

View photos from Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now … Help Now” charity concert.
Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.