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Fire Aid concert rocks Commonwealth

by Kelli Gustafson / Edmonton Oilers

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As the musicians rolled into town, so did the clouds.

Unlike most outdoor concerts, the roaring thunder was not met with disappointment, but with cheers from the crowds that packed Commonwealth Stadium on Wednesday evening.

“They prayed for rain!” smiled Diane Shannon, Executive Director, Fort McMurray United Way.  

Just as the sound checks began and people started to line the block in anticipation of the evening ahead, the sun reemerged in time for the arrival of concert-goers.

Photo by Andy Devlin.
On Wednesday, June 29, 2016, some of Canada’s biggest music stars took to the stage at Commonwealth Stadium, donating their time as a part of the Fire Aid for Fort McMurray concert, to show their support and raise funds for the Fort McMurray United Way following the devastating wildfires that swept Northern Alberta in early May, 2016. These funds will go to support the rebuilding of Fort McMurray and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB).  

“Being a proud Albertan, I think that’s what you do — you just rally behind each other,” said Brett Kissel.

Alongside Kissel, other Alberta-native artists included Nickelback, Dear Rouge, Corb Lund and High Valley.

“The best natural resource that the province has is actually its people,” Kissel added. “We can all band together and raise morale here.”

“Music is a common denominator and it transcends boundaries,” commented Lund.

Approximately 88,000 people were required to evacuate, while the wildfire — dubbed the ‘beast’ — destroyed over 1,600 structures in the Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo region. With the blaze reaching a size of nearly 200,000 hectares, an equivalent to over three times the size of Edmonton, the fire caused extensive devastation to those it affected.

“For all of these artists to come here today and lift spirits as well as dollars for the United Way I cannot begin to describe how thankful we are. It is truly humbling to see the level of compassion and good will that is sent our way,” said Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake.

“There’s a lot of hope in the community right now.”

Photo by Andy Devlin.
Co-chairing the event, Oilers Entertainment Groups (OEG) CEO and Vice Chair Bob Nicholson commented, “What an absolute privilege it’s been to Co-Chair Fire Aid for Fort McMurray. Those affected by the fires were friends, family, neighbours, colleagues and the region has shown strength and resilience in the face of adversity. We thank Albertans and Canadians for stepping up in a big way to support the benefit concert with their hard-earned dollars for the Fort McMurray United Way to support the rebuild. It’s also uplifting to see the celebration of community and how people have rallied around Fort McMurray, we’re all in this together.”

Over 17 performers graced the stage at Commonwealth Stadium, including fellow Canadian musician Randy Bachman, Blue Rodeo, City and Colour, Dean Brody, Harlequin, The Rankin Family, and Dallas Smith. Their presence demonstrated the widespread support across Canada towards the rebuild following the destructive wildfires that affected those communities across Fort McMurray and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

“It’s great to be part of the community,” said Dean Brody. “It’s great to be here and see all the support.”

Photo by Andy Devlin.
All funds raised from the concert will go directly to the Fort McMurray United Way, including a $500,000 contribution from the TD Bank Group. Other sponsors included WestJet, Rogers, the City of Edmonton, Ticketmaster among many more, with support from community leaders from Live Nation Canada, Oilers Entertainment Group, Edmonton Eskimos Football Club and Northlands.

“The list of sponsors on the board is just phenomenal,” said Shannon.

“I can’t believe all the things that have happened and all the people who came together to pull this off.”

Shannon explained that the funds will go towards many different aspects of the community during the rebuild, including both physical and mental support services.

“Everyone [has been] impacted at a different level.”

Concluding the night with a cheque handover ceremony, the organizers of Fire Aid, alongside Corb Lund, were excited to present the United Way of Fort McMurray with a cheque for an astounding two million dollars.

“We are incredibly grateful,” Blake commented.

“I promise you, we’ll be back, and we’ll be stronger than ever.”
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