It hasn’t even been three weeks since the first flash-flood warnings were issued for the Greater Houston area. Truth be told, Hurricane Harvey feels both like something that just happened and like something we’ve been living with forever. And for some, it’ll be something they’ll be living with for a long time to come. Then there are our friends in Florida and the Caribbean, to name just a few, who got beat up by Hurricane Irma. Needless to say, there are a lot of folks who need a lot of help.
While the idea itself sounds archaic — seriously, the phones they use for these sort of things don’t look like they’ve evolved in at least 30 years — telethons are still a pretty good way for celebrities to marshal the attention they get into relief for those who need it. By the time the networks cut back to their regular programming, the Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Relief telethon had raised more than $14.5 million.
Hand in Hand was everything you might have expected from a telethon: big names, a few songs and stories about just what Harvey and Irma did. Now, the music side of things was perfectly fine and safe and very middle-America; it was sort of weird to have a concert for Houston/Florida relief without a single rap, R&B or Pitbull number. You know that joke about how everyone outside of Texas thinks we all wear cowboy hats? That’s kind of how the booking felt.
At six songs in 60 minutes, you’ve got the makings of a nice EP featuring the following:
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Stevie Wonder, “Lean On Me”: Joined by that incredible Houston choir that was on Jimmy Fallon recently, Wonder and the gang got things off on a joyous note, including getting plenty of folks to clap along as the song neared its conclusion. Except for Jared Leto, Don’t think we didn’t notice your lack of participation, sir.
Usher & Blake Shelton, “Stand By Me”: exactly what you’d expect from two performers who make being on camera look easy.
Tori Kelly & Luis Fonsi, “Hallelujah”: Against a roster of music legends and beloved singers, these two had the breakout performance of the night. Lot of emotion on display by both singers, who absolutely should work together sometime. That “Despacito” dude is going places.
Dave Matthews, “Mercy”: Dave was the first performer of the night to play an original song. That’s really all I have to say about that.
Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Demi Lovato, Cece Winans, “With a Little Help From My Friends”: As a well-known Brad Paisley mark, I thought this was really great. Exactly the sort of random collaboration you would hope for from something like this, delivering in spades.
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George Strait, Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, “Texas”/”I Believe”: Was nice of George Strait to remind everyone why he’s the King of Country. Not that this friends didn’t hold their own, because they did, but George brought things home in the best way possible.
There are no losers on a night like this. They knew better than to give Kanye a live mike on a telethon, although they did give one to Cher, and for a brief moment I hoped something wild might happen, but alas it did not. Was anyone else a little weirded out by Justin Bieber? As talented as he is, that guy is terrible at pretending he’s talking on the phone on live TV.
There are a lot of winners on a night like this, but the biggest of shoutouts goes to Bun B, who not only helped organize the event but was far and away the best speaker of the night. Not only did he make Texas proud, he sounded downright mayoral.