This week’s Country Strong Night of Healing & Country Music fundraiser in Orlando, Florida, may have been one of the first public events where it finally felt OK to smile following the June 12 shootings that killed 49 people.
A stellar lineup of country artists quickly volunteered for the concert presented by local country radio station WWKA-FM (K92.3), including Cole Swindell, Maddie & Tae, Billy Currington, Parmalee, Easton Corbin, Tyler Farr, Jerrod Niemann, Canaan Smith and Michael Ray.
“We’re so excited that we got to come do this because it’s a chance to use a gift that we’ve been given to help others and just heal,” said Madison Marlow of Maddie & Tae told CMT Hot 20 Countdown.
“The first thing I think we all feel is, ‘What can we do?'” Currington said. “I only live an hour and a half away. I had this feeling that the country music community was gonna step up and do something, and so when I got the call, I was like, ‘That’s what I can do.’ … I know it’s a time of healing, and I think music itself is just so healing. If that’s the only thing we have to offer tonight — to be a part of the healing process in Orlando — I’m glad to be here for that.”
For Michael Ray, the concert was personal because he grew up just outside of Orlando.
“When an event like this happens anywhere in the world, you feel it,” he said. “But it hits a whole ‘nother level when all of a sudden you go, ‘Man, anybody I know could have been there.’”
Canaan Smith had a similar reaction.
“My family lives here, you know, and they go out,” he said. “They could have been in that club. You just feel connected to the humanity of it all — and the inhumanity of it all.”
By the end of the night, the arena was glowing, and money had been raised for the OneOrlando Fund to assist nonprofit organizations that are supporting the victims and families, LGBT, Hispanic and other affected communities, the underlying causes of this tragic event and other needs along the way.
“I hope everybody out there came together to support this community and their family and their home,” Niemann said. “I hope they leave with just a little less tears in their eyes.”
“After tonight, I hope it’s just a great restart for a lot of people,” Ray added.
For more coverage of the Orlando concert, tune in to the new episode of CMT Hot 20 Countdown airing Saturday and Sunday (June 25-26) at 9 a.m. ET/PT.