“To come back a day or two early?” Kelley, 38, said. “That’s an easy ask. I just wanted to be a part of it, and it’s such a great cause.”
Kelley’s draw was “Hope 4 Hope Town,” a grassroots effort to speed relief to the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas. The benefit concert, a sellout at Ryman Auditorium Monday night, was the brainchild of Nashville singer-songwriter Patrick Davis, organizer of the Songwriters in Paradise festival, an annual event in Hope Town, Bahamas, since 2013.
Davis may not be a household name to most country fans, but his Nashville friendships and connections attracted an all-star lineup that, besides Kelley, included Darius Rucker, Hootie and the Blowfish bandmate Mark Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Dierks Bentley, Lee Brice, Randy Houser, Riley Green, Devin Dawson, Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, Danielle Bradbery, LOCASH and Ryan Hurd.
Kelley was among the artists with a personal connection to the Bahamas: He and his wife, Cassie, married in 2009 on Harbour Island, which was spared the brunt of the hurricane. Both were glued to coverage during the tense days the hurricane stalled over the islands earlier this month. Kelley also knows firsthand what a hurricane can do: His family’s small vacation home in Charleston, South Carolina, was destroyed by a storm when he was a boy.
“It was our second home, but it’s still something I remember,” he said. “You remember the power and devastation of nature and weather.”
Hope 4 Hope Town, which has expanded to benefit all of the hard-hit northern Bahamas, actually was launched on Sept. 1 as a GoFundMe page — all Davis knew to do as he helplessly followed the coverage and anguished about his Hope Town friends.
“I’m watching it, and I’m in tears because I know what’s happening,” Davis said. “It’s three feet above sea level. It’s not going to have much of a chance.”
Astonished that his $100,000 goal was met within four hours, he raised it to $1 million (donations currently stand at $750,000 and counting). Relief organizations quickly reached out to Davis to help him funnel the funds to where they were needed most. When he got the idea for the concert a few days later, he texted his manager, Eric Arnold.
“He said you’re insane,” Davis recalled, but signed on anyway. Incredibly, the two men pulled together the concert — with iHeartRadio as a media partner — in a little over a week of planning. Tickets sold out three days after the concert was announced.
The organizers are now working hard to keep the momentum going. A Hope 4 Hope Town website offers the opportunity to learn more about the initiative and to donate. The website also features an online auction with celebrity donations, including guitars autographed by Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Lee Brice and Toby Keith; a cowboy hat autographed by George Strait; and Luke Combs’ handwritten lyrics for “Beautiful Crazy.”
CMT was on site at the Ryman to interview performers and record portions of the concert, and highlights of both will appear during the network’s weekly “Hot 20 Countdown” this Saturday.