Nashville Rising was as much a celebration of Music City as it was a flood-relief benefit concert.
Star after star — including surprise visitor Sandra Bullock — professed their love and admiration for the city and its people, who have been praised for handling one of the state's most destructive natural disasters with grace, dignity and charity.
"Nashville will rise and that is why we have come together tonight," said Faith Hill, who organized the benefit with husband Tim McGraw. "Musicians, football players, coaches, our elected officials, you in the audience, yes, we are all the same. We're just neighbors who care and friends who want to make a difference."
It was a subdued night, but still filled with No. 1 hits and poignant songs played to a sold-out crowd at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, which housed as much cross-genre star power as the building's seen. Musicians from the country, rock and Christian music scenes turned out with the aim of raising $2 million for The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
The flood, spurred by record rains across Tennessee on May 1 and 2, killed 22 people in the state and caused $2 billion in damage in Nashville's Davidson County alone. The water forced thousands from their homes, struck some of the city's biggest landmarks and destroyed the instruments and gear of scores of musicians.
"It happened to our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones and our homes," Hill told the crowd. "Everyone here knows someone affected by the flood."
Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood sang their hits, Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins praised the hillbillies of Tennessee, Lynyrd Skynyrd saluted its second home, Miranda Lambert rewarded fans with her two No. 1s, and Bullock even got in on the act.
Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey and Dolly Parton taped video messages for the crowd.
"Nashville Rising is just another way to say, `Love thy neighbor,'" Parton said.
Underwood kicked off the evening with her hit "Undo It" and a medley of her song "Jesus Take The Wheel" and the gospel standard "How Great Thou Art."
Swift warmed up with "You Belong," then told the crowd, "You're my friends and my neighbors and this is the place I love most in the world. Thanks so much for coming out tonight. I love you a lot. I love you like I love sparkly dresses, and I love you like I love telling love stories. Do you know the words to this song?" she asked as she started her hit "Love Story."
Martina McBride said her song "Anyway" perfectly captured how she feels about Nashville.
"It's about hope, it's about love, it's about dreams coming true — all of the things the city means to me," she said.
ZZ Top put on one of the evening's most spirited performances, ripping through "Sharp Dressed Man," "La Grange" and "Tush." Guitarist Billy Gibbons noted the star power in the building.
"I'm saying that we ought to just fly this building from town to town and do it every night," he said. "We do things big in Texas, but tonight's gathering, this is really big."
Bullock, who was in "The Blind Side" with McGraw, came on stage late in the show to introduce Hill.
"So listen," she told the crowd. "They say a community is only as strong as it's weakest link, right? From the look of it, there are no weak links in this community."
Bullock said she told McGraw she could stage a wardrobe malfunction or a few comedic pieces for the crowd but soon realized she needed to do something more.
"I'm going to contribute some music and I'm going to bring the house down and I'm going to do it Nashville style," she said before strapping on an acoustic guitar and sitting in front of a microphone.
"If I can have some quiet please," she said.
She pieced out the opening riff of "Smoke On The Water" to some of the night's loudest cheers, before introducing Hill.
"That's good stuff isn't it?" Hill said. "Sign that girl right away."
Hill then turned in one of the night's best performances with a soaring vocal on "Stronger" and a rousing version of "Piece Of My Heart."
"How can I follow that?" McGraw asked before finishing off the evening with "Southern Voice" and "Live Like You Were Dying."
Associated Press writer Caitlin R. King in Nashville contributed to this report.
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