LOS ANGELES — While it might seem like a Herculean task to bring together more than 50 of the biggest musical acts in the world for one event, for the artists involved in Saturday night's "ReAct Now: Music & Relief" show to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, there was no place they would rather be.
"After watching [news of the disaster] on TV, we were just like, 'What can we do?' " Good Charlotte's Benji Madden said backstage in Los Angeles, echoing the words of dozens of peers who also poured into studios in New York and Nashville, and invited cameras to their concerts around the world (see "U2, Coldplay, Pearl Jam Added To MTV Disaster-Relief Show").
"I think there's a responsibility to do something," Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba added. "I don't have to clock in tomorrow, so I can find some time to do something good for somebody else if the opportunity arises — and unfortunately it has."
On the heels of similar telethons staged by BET, NBC and other networks, "ReAct Now: Music & Relief" aired commercial-free on MTV, VH1, CMT and all of MTV Networks' channels, as well as several ones overseas. The emotional four-hour program featured musicians from all walks of life, including many representing the sounds of New Orleans, playing a variety of styles. All the while, details about how to contribute to relief efforts along the Gulf Coast scrolled across the bottom of the screen, with numbers to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and America's Second Harvest.
Audioslave's Tom Morello, who had played the Superdome and visited New Orleans many times, said Americans need to do more for their people, himself included. "It was a terrible natural disaster but an even greater human catastrophe," he said.
In between the performances, other musicians and celebrities appeared in testimonial montages, speaking about New Orleans or the horror of watching the aftermath. Kelly Clarkson, Ciara and Hilarie Burton were among the many who were brought to tears discussing the tragedy.
"I remember this guy [on TV] recalling how he was in the living room with his kids and he was holding onto his wife's hand and he was saying that he couldn't hold on any longer, and now she's gone and doesn't know where he is," Ciara said. "I was touched."
"I have a 10-year-old son, and to see people his age not in a Third World country, but right here in the U.S., digging through trash two days with no food or water, trying to find something to eat and pick it off the ground ... [that] was very disturbing, and I will never forget that," an intense Xzibit added.
Of the dozens of people who volunteered their time with a performance or testimonial, some were there simply because they wanted to do something — anything — after watching the horrific aftermath unfold on TV over the past two weeks. Others, however, had more personal motivations.
Baby from Cash Money is, of course, from New Orleans (see "Juvenile, 3 Doors Down Among Those Affected By Disaster"). "I can't even watch [the TV reports] anymore," he said. "You never know who you might see. The Superdome was just as [bad] as that disaster."
Sheryl Crow recorded her 1996 self-titled album in New Orleans and says she's had a love affair with the city ever since. "There is an undeniable energy in New Orleans," she said. "The people there are extremely soulful ... and there is a real spiritual vibe about it."
"I grew up in Baton Rouge and learned to be a musician down there [in New Orleans]," Randy Jackson added. "I call it the only city in America that has its own brand of music."
Lance Bass grew up in Laurel, Mississippi, where many of his family still reside. The town, despite being about 90 miles inland, was 65 percent destroyed by Katrina. Some of the 'NSYNC singer's relatives lost their homes, but none were harmed.
"I was talking to my grandmother as the eye of the storm was hitting them," Bass said. "And in the middle of the conversation, the phone cut out, and that was the last time I talked to them for four days. It's a pretty helpless feeling when you don't know if your family is OK."
Frankie Muniz spent the summer shooting "Stay Alive" in New Orleans and also met his fiancee there (see " 'Malcolm' Might End Soon, But Muniz Says He'll 'Stay Alive' "). He evacuated hours before the hurricane hit.
"This is the biggest natural disaster in U.S. history," he said. "Millions and millions of lives are changed forever."
"ReAct Now: Music & Relief" kicked off with Alicia Keys performing a stirring rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" from the musical "Carousel," followed by Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock's rollicking version of "Sweet Home Alabama."
Those performances set the tone for an exhilarating evening of diverse artists choosing appropriate, but unique, songs. Green Day and Trent Reznor, for instance, performed their own reflections on loss ("Wake Me Up When September Ends" and "Hurt," respectively), while Maroon 5 and the Goo Goo Dolls played covers fitting for a telethon (the Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down" and Supertramp's "Give a Little Bit").
"The last time we were in New Orleans was one of my fondest memories of touring the past few years," Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine said backstage in Los Angeles. "It was just a beautiful day, and we went to a barbeque and I really got to experience the city. So it was particularly upsetting to watch it crumble."
Many artists went the acoustic route, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers with "Under the Bridge," Beck with "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes" and even David Banner with "Cadillac on 22's."
During his rehearsal in New York, Banner told the audience that he gave away 185 pairs of sneakers from his own closet. He also shared a horrific story about how people got in their cars to get away from the water and then got stuck.
"They drowned in their cars," the Mississippi native said. "When the water went away, the cars went back to the ground and dead people were still in their cars ... children. This is what I am trying to get across to people. It was not a white or black thing. It wasn't no rich or poor thing. It wasn't like the water said, 'OK, here's rich people, let me go somewhere else.' I went to an apartment complex where it was just wood and dead bodies all over the place."
Hip-hop was also represented with Kanye West, Common and, in a last-minute addition, the Game, who performed "Dreams."
"It's inspirational," the Game said backstage in Los Angeles before taping a public-service announcement encouraging viewers to donate. "It's only gonna take me one take, 'cause if you speak from the heart, you'll get it right every time," he told the producer before beginning, "Dear America, we as a people need to stand up and be strong and rise to the occasion."
Good Charlotte also picked what they said they consider the most inspirational tune in their catalog, "We Believe." Benji and Joel Madden performed it acoustic.
"We always go the French Quarter and watch the same little kids who tap dance with bottle caps on their shoes," Joel said. "When I saw this on the news, my first thought was, 'Man, I hope those kids are all right.' "
To find out what you can do to help provide relief to victims of Katrina, head to think MTV's hurricane relief page.