By Kevin McClintock – The Joplin Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — There was talk of several benefit concerts by various musical acts for Joplin following the May 22 tornado strike, but country star Jo Dee Messina had a personal connection to the disaster.

Messina, 1998’s top new female vocalist, will perform a benefit concert for Joplin’s tornado victims inside Pittsburg’s Memorial Auditorium tomorrow night.

Originally, Messina and her longtime promoter, Joplin resident Al Zar, had launched a series of benefit concerts to help raise $2.3 million for a non-profit school in Nashville, Tenn. One of those stops included Pittsburg, Kan.

But when the EF-5 tornado tore through Joplin and destroyed Zar’s home, the focus behind the Pittsburg concert immediately shifted, Messina said. Her friend lost his house and barns – even his cows – to the tornado.

“Right down to his phone charger,” Messina said.

The country singing star contacted school officials in Nashville and told them about Al Zar and the Joplin tornado. They told her to forget about the school and to give whatever money she raised from the Pittsburg concert to her friend.

When she contacted Al Zar, “He told me, ‘You know what? It’s not just me that’s gotten hit hard here. Everyone in Joplin just got slammed.’”

So there was another shift, with concert proceeds earmarked for the American Red Cross and the Joplin tornado victims, she said.

“I’ve done tons of benefit concerts over the years, St. Jude’s and (many) established charities,” Messina said by phone. “But the way this one came about was just so authentic, so organic. It was just something where everyone was instantly onboard and wanting to help.”

Messina doesn’t plan on driving to Joplin to glimpse the destruction firsthand. She’s seen enough of it from the the videos and still photographs.

“I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around the (devastation),” she said.

Her show should prove unique for the area in that the stage will resemble Messina’s music room at her home. The audience is invited to ask questions or directly request songs. It’s called the “Music Room Tour,” she said, and she usually does it for smaller venues like Pittsburg.

“We decorate the stage with couches, rugs, my piano, lamps, candles, windows,” she said. “We want to make it look exactly like my music room. It’s a format I’m very familiar with.”

During the concert, Messina will offer anecdotes and stories about her life, career as well as the inspiration behind some of her biggest hits, such as “Bye Bye,” “Bring on the Rain” and “My Give a Damn’s Busted.”

All concerts, when there’s interaction with fans, are special to her, she said, but benefit concerts are especially dear to her heart.

“It just goes to show that it’s not all about being a star,” she said. “Here’s a chance to give something back. As cliche as that sounds, I get to sing and do what I love to do and make a difference to others.”