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By Don Bolding
Waco Tribune-Herald via Associated Press
With more than 600 people still in Melody Ranch early Sunday evening and still more coming in, organizers expected the West First Benefit Concert to exceed their goal of $50,000 for victims of the deadly explosion by as much as $10,000.
“You see over $41,000 on the board up there now, but there are a lot of donations and T-shirt sales we haven’t counted yet,” said Nick Fuentes, co-owner of the night spot at 2315 Robinson Drive in Waco.
Jennifer Jung, heading up a silent auction, said she expected Sunday’s proceeds to top Saturday’s $6,200. Businesses and individuals contributed more than 200 items, from massages and restaurant meals to paintings and sculptures displayed in a well-lighted room next to the main floor.
Fuentes said attendance topped 1,100 at one time Saturday night. The club’s capacity is 1,350.
Organizers say they are donating all of the $10-per-person cover charge to the West First Benefit Fund at Educators Credit Union . The April 17 explosion at West Fertilizer Co. caused the deaths of 15 people and injured 200 others.
Sunday, the benefit concert had all the elements of a community picnic combined with a giant Saturday night club scene. Older people mixed with patrons in their 20s, and children alternately ran around the floor and sat with their parents at tables. The most common articles of clothing were T-shirts commemorating the blast, many probably purchased at the party.
The festive mood was broken from time to time by a band calling for a moment of silence, creating an eerie stillness as everyone stopped moving and talking at once.
The event appears to have started with an idea that Waco musician Neal Davis presented on the Waco Musicians Group’s Facebook page. He came up with the name West First to honor the first responders who died in the fire and as a pun on the town’s annual Labor Day WestFest. An ad hoc planning committee took over, and more than 1,000 people indicated on social media that they would attend. The Nolan Pick Band which was scheduled for a Saturday night gig, gave up its spot to make room for the benefit.
Fuentes said 15 bands played Saturday and 15 were scheduled Sunday afternoon and evening.
Jerry Clements said he moved from Central Texas to Longview in 1977. He went to school in West and came back to see people and try to help.
“I know some of the people who were injured in the blast,” he said. “This was a shock, but it just goes to show you anything can happen to any of us.”
Waco Firefighter Matthew Carey said, “I think it’s great that the community can come together like this. Musicians are really good about throwing their support into fundraisers like this. It was a terrible disaster, but I think you’re seeing that firefighters are all one family, dedicated to taking care of each other.”
Fuentes said, “The bands wanted to organize it and do it, and we just threw the doors open.”