Two things seemed certain before Wednesday’s #ParklandStrong benefit show. First, it would rain an ungodly amount. And second, it would be a generally somber evening.
Well, neither of those things happened.
The heinous red blob on the weather map just west of the open-air Pompano Beach Amphitheater miraculously disappeared hours before the music began. And the concert proved to be a much-needed pick-me-up. One hundred percent of the proceeds went to the official Broward Education Foundation Stoneman Douglas Victims’ Fund.
The evening kicked off with speed-painter Michael Israel, who, over the course of two songs, magically created the Stoneman Douglas eagle with a bolded "STRONG!" under it. Watching him was better than listening to a boring opening band.
William Ryan Key, a Jacksonville native and the former frontman of Yellowcard, opened up the live-jams portion of the night. His acoustic set boasted five songs from his forthcoming EP, Thirteen, set to drop next week. Key’s new tunes are reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional lead singer Chris Carrabba’s adventure with the side project Twin Forks — they mark a new era and take his vocals to a wiser-with-age level. Key closed his set with the Yellowcard classic "Ocean Avenue," which got the clearly multigenerational crowd in sync.
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Carrabba, a Boca Raton native, followed Key with an acoustic set of his own after an hourlong gap. Why it took that long between acoustic sets remains a mystery. He started things off with an absolutely moving and raspy-yet-pristine rendition of Bob Dylan’s "He Was a Friend of Mine." Carrabba crooned on the guitar while photos of the victims of the February 14 shooting flashed behind him. It was beautiful, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Carrabba’s set also included Dashboard faves "Screaming Infidelities," "Vindicated," and "We Fight."
To close the evening, New Found Glory, whose members are Coral Springs-bred Stoneman Douglas alums, took the stage. But before jumping into the rock goodness, the band members stood together while guitarist Chad Gilbert read a letter to the crowd. It touched on how the bandmates had walked the same halls as the kids and how sad they were on that tragic day. To close the message, Gilbert said, “A very appropriate thing to do right here
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And that’s just what New Found Glory did for an hour-plus, relentlessly rolling through hits such as "All Downhill From Here," "Barbed Wire," and "Party on Apocalypse."
As the music eventually quieted and many attendees walked out hand-and-hand, you couldn’t help but reflect on the headlines we’ve recently endured. Parkland. Nashville. And, in Las Vegas, 58 people being murdered while simply enjoying an outdoor show just like this one. And you couldn’t help but think, What's keeping a massacre like Parkland from happening again? The reality is, little to nothing.
Despite the darkness that has consumed so many communities like ours, it’s moments like this show — and the kids on the front lines who are advocating for change — that provide the light we so desperately need.