When the waters rise, friends and neighbors rise to the occasion to offer a helping hand.
On Monday evening, country icon Loretta Lynn did just that, bringing together some of Nashville’s brightest stars to shine a light from the Grand Ole Opry stage directly onto the still-struggling flood victims of Waverly, Tennessee.
In late August, flash flooding killed 20 people and damaged more than 500 homes in Waverly and surrounding areas, destroying 272 entirely.
It was a tragedy that reached Lynn’s doorstep when waters reached her campground in Hurricane Mills, but the true personal tragedy for Lynn arrived when her ranch foreman Wayne Spears was said to be among those lost.
Lynn appeared via video.
“Wayne was more than just a foreman of a ranch,” she said. “To all of us he was our good friend. He was always our cowboy. I know everybody’s missing him already. Wayne Spears, we all love you, honey.”
In one of the night’s early performances, after wrapping up the fitting “I’m a Survivor,” Reba McEntire spoke on why she and her peers had readily agreed to join Lynn’s efforts.
“When Loretta calls, we all come running,” McEntire said.
It was a night that included more than a few tears but also a great deal of joy through more than a few stirring performances. Not the least of those were duets between Garth Brooks and his wife, Trisha Yearwood, on a few country classics, and a touching dual performance of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” by Keith Urban and Breland.
With numerous residents of Waverly in attendance and Nashville being only 60 miles from the town, many in the audience and even some of the performers had a direct connection.
To Luke Bryan, Humphreys County had become a go-to fishing spot that he’d discovered in his early Nashville days.
For him, the scope of the devastation hit home on a helicopter ride.
“It’s hard, like I don’t wanna get emotional, but I flew over and saw what Waverly was dealing with from the air, and I was up there, and I just said a prayer for you guys,” Bryan said. “Whew, it was just hard to watch.”
For his part, Chris Janson brought ample energy to the proceedings, strutting the stage and gesturing wildly as he sang and slayed on the harmonica.
But before he got the mood going, the singer was made emotional by a video before his set that included stories of the recovery process from Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis and showed pictures of each of the victims, ages 7 months to age 70.
“When you see your friends and neighbors hurting, it just gives you a whole new perspective and I hadn’t seen like I saw it there,” Janson said before resolving to lift the mood. “It’s a big blessing to be here tonight, it really is. Now we’re going to bring on the good vibes. Are you ready?”
Other standout performances included the immensely talented rising star Brittney Spencer, who performed Lynn’s hit “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and her own original song “Compassion” to great fanfare and applause. Luke Combs opened up the night with a passionate performance as well.
And while the United Way of Humphreys County solicited donations online and via text throughout the night, a few items were also auctioned off to the crowd to chip in with the global endeavor.
In the middle of his set, Urban signed his guitar, then called on his stage partner for the night, Breland, to sign it before calling his real-life partner, wife Nicole Kidman, on stage to sign it as well.
“This is the Volunteer State, so I want to do my bit,” Urban said.
“I’ve never been on stage at the Opry!” said Kidman, who emerged to wild cheers from the crowd. “Wow!”
After Urban’s set, when the impromptu bidding reached upward of $36,000, an enthusiastic Brooks ran on stage and grabbed the mic.
“Are you kidding me? Thirty-six thousand dollars for that guitar?” Brooks said. “Seventy-five thousand!”
Brooks and Yearwood then brought the proceedings home with the comical bantering cohesion and clear musical chemistry only a married couple can muster on Lynn and Conway Twitty’s “After the Fire Is Gone,” George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s “Golden Ring” and their own timeless duet “Whiskey to Wine.”
They concluded their set with Yearwood’s “She’s in Love with the Boy” and Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.”
“We want to send all our love to Waverly and Humphreys County and just thank you,” Yearwood said. “This is when love comes together for good, so thank you guys for what you’re doing. And we’re sending our love to you guys.”
To donate funds for flood relief and recovery, text “FLOODRELIEF” to 269-89 or donate online to United Way of Humphreys County. Donations can also be made to First Federal Bank in Waverly through the Humphreys County Homeless Coalition fund and through the American Red Cross.