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Okla. benefit plays out under watch

6:37 AM, May 30, 2013   |    comments
Usher (left) and Blake Shelton perform at the Healing In the Heartland benefit concert for Oklahoma, May 29, 2013. (Photo: Brett Deering, NBC)
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OKLAHOMA CITY - The "Oklahoma standard," the can-do spirit that characterized rescue and relief efforts after the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing, has come roaring back.

Blake Shelton, a native of Ada, Okla., made his contribution to the standard Wednesday night, hosting Healing in the Heartland, an all-star tornado relief show to benefit the United Way of Central Oklahoma. The two-hour concert broadcast live on NBC and cable.

The talent: Shelton, 36, brought along his wife Miranda Lambert; legendary Okies Reba McEntire and Vince Gill; country stars Rascal Flatts, Luke Bryan and Darius Rucker; plus OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder and Shelton's fellow Voice judge Usher.

The crowd: 14,000 fans packed into Chesapeake Arena for the sold-out show.

Greater Ada: "(Blake) grew up across the street from me," said Letha Wood as she picked up her tickets. "His family moved in when he was about 10, and he went to school with my daughters. He was the neatest little boy." His mother, Dorothy Shackleford, still lives in greater Ada.

Weather alert: A severe thunderstorm moved over Oklahoma City just before the doors opened. The metro area remained under a tornado watch until 11 p.m.

They're Team Oklahoma tonight: Thirty minutes before the broadcast started, Team Blake and Team Usher from The Voice took the stage to sing the national anthem. The quintet sang a capella as people who had already taken their seats stood, hands over hearts.

The merchandise: Milling around before the show, people wearing shorts and flip-flops rubbed shoulders with folks in cowboy hats and boots. The crowds were thick by the merchandise booths, which were selling plastic cups and huggies with the show logo for $5 and black T-shirts for $25.

The wind came sweeping down the plains: The concert opened with footage of the F5 tornado that swept through Moore before Shelton stepped out to sing the lyrically appropriate God Gave Me You ("God gave me you for the ups and downs, God gave me you for the days of doubt"). "I'm here tonight with some of my closest friends from Oklahoma and beyond to rebuild this land that means so much to me," he told the audience.

A true believer: Rucker sang True Believers, a song about sticking together. He strolled the stage in front of a screen resembling a stained-glass window.

The donations: "We're having a phone meltdown," Shelton said. "Keep it up."

"God bless Oklahoma!": Superstar trio Rascal Flatts sang I Won't Let Go. (Joe Don Rooney was raised the tiny town of Picher.) Their heartfelt rendering caused the crowd to go wild.

Tears of hope: Shelton's wife Lambert softly sang The House That Built Me while photos of rescued animals flashed above her. She started crying when a kitten was shown. Lambert tried to regain her composure while the audience sang along with her wobbly notes. As the song wound down, she mouthed, "I'm sorry."

More Okie pride: Tulsan Tedder brought the energy back with his hard-charging Counting Stars.

Bad things, good people: Alyson Costilla lost her mother in Moore and graduated from high school five days later. She told Shelton her mom was his fan. "When bad things happen, good people step up to help," Costilla said.

Shout-out: McEntire took the stage with Everyday People, then saluted all the first responders in the house. Gill followed on guitar with Threaten Me With Heaven.

Where's Garth? Favorite son and daughter Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood couldn't make it, but sent video messages and pleas for donation.

Heartfelt: Georgian Bryan came to support Oklahoma because he feels a kinship with the state and its weather. "When we saw the news about the tornado, my 5-year-old told me to never let that happen to him," Bryan said before the show. He sang Crash My Party and patted his chest, telling the locals they were in his heart.

Two for the close: The audience lit up when Usher joined Shelton in a duet on Home. "Is there anyone in the world cooler than Usher?" Shelton wondered. They finished to thunderous applause.

After the broadcast: The audience didn't seem to know what to do when the televised show ended, but kicked back and relaxed when Shelton broke into Honey Bee. "Man, it feels good to play music in Oklahoma! Let's do another one," he said and promptly performed It's All About Tonight. "Jam session from here on out."

Rucker took over vocals for Don't Think I Don't Think About It, then pulled on a guitar for Wagon Wheel. By the time Shelton switched back on with Sure Be Cool If You Did, he had his sleeves rolled up and a drink in his hand.

Healing: When Lambert walked out in a "Healing in the Heartland" T-shirt, shorts and boots, the band kicked into her megahit Kerosene. After Baggage Claim, she told her husband how proud she was of him. She gave him a quick hug, said "You're hot, too" and left.

To the bone: Hillbilly Bone became a raucous anthem of being an Oklahoman. Shelton strolled the front of the stage, shaking hands, smiling down at fans and looking like he finally had relaxed. He leaned against the mike stand. "I keep singing my own songs, but I kind of want to sing a song about Oklahoma." McEntire came out to help him on Oklahoma Swing, which she originally did with Gill, who didn't return to join in.

"I screwed up a Reba McEntire song, I will never hear the end of it," Shelton said afterward.

She didn't care. Reba revved the show back up with her tune You Can Hear Me On the Radio with as much energy as if the show had just started.

The aftershow: This show was one for the fans, for the folks who have been spending days cleaning debris, dealing with insurance and wondering what to do next. This was their time to play.

Bryan donned a baseball cap for I Don't Want the Night to End. "Thanks for making an ol' Georgia boy feel at home. Where are my country girls?" he asked, singing Country Girl. He lifted his shirt, flashing a six-pack to some delighted women.

"OK, I'm not a heartthrob like my friend Luke, but I can one up him," Shelton said. "You know my friend Usher?" The R&B star brought the soul with Superstition.

The end: "I only have one card left to play," said Shelton, playing his new tune Boys 'Round Here. The audience yelled for five minutes before he returned, saying this was a real encore because he had nothing planned. He went deep into this career and pulled out Ol' Red, the tale of a prisoner who has a way with dogs. With a "You all be safe tonight," he left the stage again.

Sandi Davis, Special for USA TODAY

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