NASHVILLE, Tenn. — His sentiments were as blue as the denim he was wearing.
“This one’s for Candice,” the man on the mic announced.
And then he broke into song.
“That girl, she won’t be coming back,” Boo Ray sang, his slide guitar moans underscoring the longing in his voice.
The tune in question, “Sea of Lights,” was dedicated to Candice Bowers, a 40-year-old single mother from Garden Grove, California, who lost her life in the Route 91 Harvest tragedy.
She was the niece of one of Ray’s close friends.
It’s a balmy Monday night in Nashville, and assorted musicians have come together at the Mercy Lounge on Cannery Row for “Nashville Gives Back: A Benefit Concert for Las Vegas.”
All proceeds from the show will go to the Music City Cares Fund, which makes donations to various nonprofit organizations, like the Injured Police Officers Fund, to which it has already contributed.
These artists have come here to raise funds and one another’s spirits at once.
“It’s been such a crazy week. I don’t think anybody hasn’t been affected in some way,” says Josh Mitcham, singer-guitarist for roots rockers Jericho Woods. “Music is the only cure. We have to pull together.”
And so within this second-floor music hall, whose brick walls, wooden flooring and exposed piping lend the room an industrial feel, they’re all pulling in unison for a few hours.
Nashville is an especially tight music community: There are so many working musicians here, paths get crossed on a nightly basis.
And so when the Route 91 Harvest shooting happened, the roughly 1,800 miles that separate Las Vegas and Nashville were bridged in an instant.
“Nashville was kind of there, in the form of multiple busloads of Nashville musicians, so we felt real close to that,” Ray explains after his set, seated on a wooden bench on the club’s outdoor balcony. “When the planes and buses came back to Nashville after Vegas, we all grabbed up our friends like, ‘Man, I’ll be there to get you. I can’t wait to see you.’ God, we were terrified.”
“We’re coping by getting together and doing nights like this,” he adds. “I’ve seen an outpouring of affection and condolences, like, ‘Hey, Nashville loves you, Las Vegas.’”
This night, then, was but one moment in a much larger narrative.
“I think that when it comes to concerts, when it comes to country music, when it comes to how important that country music fans are to this entire community, it’s pretty easy to understand why so many of us were drawn to do what we could,” says Ellen Lehman, president and founder of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, which established the Music City Cares Fund.
“Nashville is a community,” explained headliner Lilly Hiatt, the daughter of renowned singer-songwriter John Hiatt. “Something we can offer people: Healing.”
And ultimately, that’s what this night was about, just as much as benefiting a good cause.
“Waitin’ on the sunshine, to come out of the clouds,” Savannah Conley sang at the beginning of the evening, her voice porcelain-smooth, as she attempted to shorten said wait.
But as Tennessee duo Moonlight Social understood, sometimes small gestures can help soothe big hurts.
“The next three minutes won’t change your life,” they sang on “Make You Smile.” “But you get a little better one song at a time.”
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.