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Urban, Big Kenny, Hill, Bentley support Nashville4Africa

Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, April 22, 2009

Reviewed by Jessica Phillips

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Themes of freedom, love, and compassion swirled through the hall as artists from country, Christian and pop genres, including Keith Urban, Faith Hill and Dierks Bentley, joined forces for Nashville4Africa, a benefit concert to support children in Africa. The night was hosted by Big Kenny of Big and Rich and Damien Horne, who have been deeply committed to aiding schoolchildren in Africa who do not have access to books, supplies and other materials needed for a solid education.

Big Kenny's buddies Urban, Bentley, Hill, bluegrass band the SteelDrivers, along with Christian artists Third Day and Jars of Clay and rock singer Brad Arnold of Three Doors Down were on hand to support the cause. The audience paid top dollar for seats in the innately adorned symphony hall, and many were dressed accordingly.

As the Lost Boys Choir kicked things off along with a comfortable and happy Urban, the audience started to loosen up and sing along with Urban's hit, Somebody Like You. Big Kenny offered a version of Last Dollar (Fly Away) the song he wrote for Tim McGraw.

Bentley gave a standard take on the liberating Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go), before having the African Children's Choir back him up on the idealistic Beautiful World. He recalled bringing in the choir to sing the song with him at Nashville's Ocean Way Studios the day before. "These kids are really good singers; they harmonized and everything," he said.

Arnold and rock-Christian singer Ashley Cleveland offered soulful, stirring versions of their own hits, as did Jars of Clay and Third Day, who invited the audience to become a sort of mega-choir for their hit Call My Name (too bad Urban didn't join them for this, as he covered the tune on his latest album, Defying Gravity ). Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine said the band didn't hesitate to help out; "We have choices we can make to help people."

Bluegrass darlings the SteelDrivers offered a wonderful rendition of Blue Side of the Mountain, which seemed to take the audience by surprise. Lead singer Chris Stapleton's rugged voice certainly seemed to wake up the crowd and sounded wonderfully unordinary for such a prim and proper venue. They then performed Rainbows Never Die backed by the choir.

A grinning Hill joined the event for a rendition of This Little Light of Mine. She kept a beautiful balance between letting her own strong voice ring out, and stepping back to let the Children's Choir do some great choreography and singing of their own. Several times she attempted to join the kids in dancing before hugging nearly all of the children as the song ended.

The best act of the night wasn't the platinum-selling Urban or polished performer Hill - it was the clearly African Children's Choir, who shook the audience and the well-decorated rafters with their African tribal songs, as they bopped and shimmied, clapped and smiled through cute-as-a-button versions of He's Got the Whole World in His Hands and Oh Happy Day. In fact, the children almost never stopped dancing or swaying as they backed artists on their various songs. By the end of the night, it was the children who had the crowd on their feet, clapping and grinning.

The night ended with several artists lining up to join the choir on Jesus Love the Little Children, and a fitting ending for this night's call of support and action, Stand By Me.