What started as a local response to the August floods that devastated Louisiana has turned into a benefit concert that will be televised live across the nation on Monday. To organize such any effort with high-profile artists is difficult enough, but to do it in less than three weeks is minor miracle.
The organizers of Louisiana Rising: A Benefit Concert for Flood Relief—which takes place Monday at the Baton Rouge River Center Theater in Louisiana—are doing just that. Former American Idol judges Harry Connick Jr. and Randy Jackson, who are natives of Louisiana, will host the show. Most of the concert's performers are also originally from Louisiana, including Aaron Neville, Hunter Hayes, Better Than Ezra, MacKenzie Bourg, Chris Thomas King, and Sonny Landreth. Proceeds from the show will go to the American Red Cross.
Chris Blades, marketing director for Baton Rouge’s CBS affiliate WAFB-TV, says the concert began as a local idea suggested by Sandy Breland, vice president and general manager at WVUE-TV in New Orleans. Breland previously held the same title at WAFB. “We weren’t thinking about the scale of the concert at that time," Blades says. "We were thinking, ‘Oh yeah, we can do this. Let’s give it a shot.’”
That local idea turned into a national event, with Raycom Media TV stations and Bounce TV televising the concert across the United States, where it will air live in most markets at 7 p.m. Central Time. Johnny Palazzotto of Pal Productions is the concert's musical director. Blades estimates that more than 100 people will be part of the concert's television production crew.
To keep costs down, Raycom and its production subsidiary Tupelo Honey-Raycom are incurring the production costs, and suppliers are donating their services or providing them at a reduced rate. Blades says local companies such as Premier Sound Services and See-Hear Productions are providing services such as sound, lighting, equipment, and stage design. Meanwhile, organizers are asking the event's national sponsors to give financial help to flood victims beyond the concert. For example, Cox Communications will donate $100,000 to the American Red Cross.
Jackson was the first celebrity to sign on for the concert, says Blades, who reached out by making a phone call to Jackson's brother, Herman Jackson, a music director/instructor at Southern University and A&M College whose Herman Jackson Jazz Quartet will also perform at the concert. Raycom helped bring Connick on board, since the most of Raycom's affiliates have signed on for Connick's syndicated daytime talk show, Harry, which premieres nationwide on September 12. So far, Connick has committed only as host of the benefit concert, not as a performer. Could Connick also perform at the show? "Anything is possible," Blades says. "We'll see if he can fit it in."
Arranging food service at the concert has been a major challenge, says Blades. The venue, which has seating capacity for about 1,900 people, would normally handle catering for the concert. However, its hospitality resources have temporarily relocated to the neighboring Baton Rouge River Center Arena, which is serving as a shelter for about 2,000 flood victims. As of Wednesday, Blades says his team was still lining up catering and craft services but had secured noted Louisiana chef John Folse to provide lunch for staff and crew on Monday.
So, what's is the biggest lesson learned from organizing an event of this size in a short period of time? "We had a lot of great people with longtime experience come on board that have donated their time," Blades says. "I'm fairly certain things normally don't come together this well in two weeks."