There is no competition for five former presidents at a benefit concert, and that held true on Saturday night. But Lady Gaga made it close.
The pop star was the surprise guest at the Deep From the Heart benefit for hurricane relief at Reed Arena, an event that also marked the 20th anniversary of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Complex at Texas A&M. The five former presidents in attendance -- Jimmy Carter, Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama -- were the main attraction, and they earned well-deserved ovations from the crowd upon entrance and during brief speeches.
Gaga was the musical buzz of the building. Her career has taken some wild twists and turns, but she's an enormous talent, fitting into any musical role -- from the energy and style of her Super Bowl halftime show earlier this year to her acclaimed 2014 album of standards with Tony Bennett.
On Saturday night, Gaga hit all the right notes. Seated at a white piano and dressed all in white, she belted out gorgeous rendition of Million Reasons, You and I and The Edge of Glory, often stopping between and even during songs for messages of support. Her voice is remarkable, especially in these songs that allow its strength to shine. It was three songs, three standing ovations. And all you could do was shake your head and say, "Wow."
There were many standouts on this night, which had a clear focus on feel-good songs. Alabama's warm brand of Southern rock and country is still strong, as is Randy Owen's voice. The band had fans standing and clapping for If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band), Tennessee River and Mountain Music.
Texas A&M's musical heroes - Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett -- played a significant role in the event. Keen was up first and set a sweet tone with I'm Coming Home and Feelin' Good Again. Lovett later offered his witty welcome song That's Right (You're Not From Texas), then the gospel tune I'm Going to Wait, which moves from slow and mournful to a jubilant celebration of faith.
Naturally, Keen joined Lovett for The Front Porch Song (also known as This Old Porch), which they wrote together in their A&M days. For fans and for Aggies, it's always a highlight, and it brought chills at its ending.
The Gatlins (minus Larry, who recently had throat surgery, but introduced the family band), scored with Houston (Means I'm One Day Closer to You) and All the Gold in California. The Texas A&M Singing Cadets backed emcee Lee Greenwood on God Bless the USA.
Sam Moore, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, offered a patriotic set along with his signature Soul Man. His rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic picked up speed and a gospel vibe, which provided some of the biggest cheers of the night, whenever a head-bobbing George W. Bush or singing-along Obama were shown on the screens.
It was one strong performance after another. And the final act was especially satisfying, with the Houston Gospel Choir singing Bill Withers' classic Lean on Me. Other performers -- including Keen, Lovett, Moore, Yolanda Adams and Alabama -- and the Singing Cadets spilled out from the wings to join the choir, packing the stage with joyful voices. A feel-good ending if there ever was one.
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