Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines told a thunderous crowd Monday night that “there was zero hesitation” when the band was asked to perform with fellow country stars to raise money for victims of recent wildfires in her home state of Texas. She and her band mates joined Willie Nelson, George Strait and other musicians during a mega-concert in Austin that raised more than $500,000. A fire that started Sept. 4 in Central Texas’ Bastrop County destroyed at least 1,500 homes and killed two people, marking the most devastating of the numerous fires that have scorched about 6,000 square miles in Texas in the last year.
Maines told the crowd she was worried that without homes, “you all might not look lovely.” But she told them they all looked fantastic. “When they called us to do this show, there was zero hesitation,” she said. “You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the girl.”
Nelson was joined onstage by folksy newcomers the Avett Brothers and, backed up by Asleep at the Wheel, they roused the crowd with rowdy versions of Nelson’s classic “On the Road Again” and the gospel “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
Nelson recently spent time filming a movie in Bastrop and, in an interview before the concert, called the fires “tragic.” He said he has lost homes to fire and knows how devastating it can be. “You never really get over it,” he said. “There’s nothing I can tell them to make it better except some of us have been there and done that and we survived it, and they will too. Be strong.”
Asleep at the Wheel front man Ray Benson, who helped book the performers, said he seldom asks his friends for favors but thought this cause was important enough. “This one was so compelling, I said ‘OK, let me call Willie and let me call Lyle (Lovett)’ and they both said yeah,” Benson said. “Willie actually cancelled a show to do it. Lyle also canceled an appearance.”
Benson said the music community felt a responsibility to help. “I just think the scope of devastation was so great and so close to home,” he said. “The numbers in Bastrop were so overwhelming, how do you deal with something like that? And also you do feel … that we’re in a position to not sit on the sidelines and do something.”
The concert started with Christopher Cross. Eleven acts were scheduled to perform, and helping emcee was actor Kyle Chandler, who won an Emmy last month for his role as a Texas high school football coach in Friday Night Lights.
Images of charred forests, skeletal remains of vehicles and homes were shown between sets at the Frank Erwin Center at the University of Texas at Austin campus. The concert was nearly full, but officials said they didn’t yet have numbers for the number of tickets sold. But one of the concert’s hosts told the crowd that they’d raised “way north of $500,000.”
Several attendees wore T-shirts representing local volunteer fire departments that battled the recent blazes.