NEW YORK — It was part homecoming parade, part raucous house party and, well, we'd like to think people learned something too.
On Thursday night (October 23), Nokia Theatre Times Square played host to "A Night for Vets: An MTV Concert for the BRAVE," a tribute to the men and women who serve in the armed forces, and the place was packed with veterans, active-duty kids in military fatigues and more than a few big-name stars too. The whole concert airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET on MTV.
50 Cent, Ludacris, Hinder and O.A.R. performed live, and Kanye West, Kid Rock, Linkin Park (and a host of others) chipped in special pretaped sets. Ciara, Ne-Yo and Keri Hilson appeared to salute the troops, and stars like Justin Timberlake, Will Ferrell and Will.I.Am taped messages too.
And it was all for a good cause — not just to throw our soldiers and veterans a rather kick-ass soiree, but to spread the message about BRAVE, the Bill of Rights for American Veterans, a petition created by MTV and a group of nonpartisan veterans' organizations that calls on elected officials to support vets' issues and enact positive legislative changes.
And while the political message was no doubt important, most of the vets in the audience were there to party, kick back and hear some music. And right off the bat, they were obliged, thanks to a fiery set from 50.
Dressed in camouflage, flanked by Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo, and backed by a tight live band (not to mention a gigantic American flag, "Patton"-style), Fif tore through "Get Up," the first single from his upcoming Before I Self Destruct album, ordering the crowdmembers to throw their hands in the air and marching around the stage like a — pun intended — drill sergeant (you can check out photos of his rehearsal here). And then, with the wail of a guitar, he and his G-Unit mates were off, leaving the crowd begging for more.
And they got it, though not from 50. After a quick intro from Ciara, the room went dark and none other than Kid Rock appeared on a massive video screen, grabbed the mic and announced, "This one is for the biggest, the baddest and the bravest. ... You kicked ass for us, and now we're gonna kick a little ass for you," before launching headlong into "Warrior," a muscle-y rocker made even more diesel by the addition of four guitarists onstage.
The rock didn't stop with the Kid. The video screens lifted to reveal Hinder, who strutted and screamed their way through "Use Me," from their upcoming album Take It to the Limit. Lead singer Austin Winkler tossed devil horns in the air, popped his pelvis and finally thrust his mic into the crowd, urging them to sing along, which they did ... loudly.
After a moment, the room went dark again, only this time, there were no video screens. Rather, after an introduction from Eve, Ludacris began to make his way through the crowd, shaking hands and rapping as his DJ cued up "Southern Hospitality" (many in the audience made like the hook and began throwing 'bows, too). Luda didn't let a broken left foot stop him from bounding around the stage, slapping high-fives and working his way through a medley of his hits, including "Stand Up" and "What Them Girls Like." He tossed off his leather jacket, stood with his arms crossed and exited to thunderous applause.
There were other highlights too: Taped performances from Kanye West and Linkin Park shook the speakers and had the vets throwing their hands in the air. O.A.R. delivered a soulful live take on their hit "Shattered." And Saving Abel closed the night with an emotional performance of "18 Days," frontman Jared Weeks clutching a handful of dog tags and dedicating the song — and the entire night — to the troops.
And then it was over, and hundreds of former (and current) soldiers spilled out into Times Square. Their voices were hoarse, their faces plastered with smiles, and, for at least one night, they all looked like really happy kids. It's a start.
Don't miss "A Night for Vets: An MTV Concert for the BRAVE," presented by MTV's Choose or Lose campaign and CNN to support veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The show features performances by 50 Cent, Ludacris, Kanye West, Hinder, Saving Abel and more, and airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET on MTV.