Some 4,500 people showed up at the Tucson Convention Center to be a part of unity and community and moving forward after the Jan. 8 mass shooting.

But that doesn't mean they didn't want to rock out a bit while they were at it.

Granted, the benefit concert for the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding on Thursday night wasn't the typical rock scene.

Sure, there was the guy with the long hair in the top hat with a rattlesnake affixed to the brim.

And the one who exclaimed a performer was "sick!" - but meant it, in the contemporary vernacular, as a high compliment, not a statement of health.

There were the occasional pink-streaked tresses. And a bit of leather.

But despite strains from electronic keyboards and guitars, not to mention a particular hard-rocking headliner who goes by Alice, it was a rather polite crowd.

An accidental kick to the chair in cramped rows drew apologies. Hugs abounded. Applause was generous - not only for rockers Jackson Browne and Alice Cooper, who organized the event, but for the dozen other acts, as well as several speakers.

And when Jennifer Warnes belted out "Amazing Grace" a cappella, thousands hushed in reverence.

Until they quietly joined in, and voices filled the empty spaces.

"What happened on Jan. 8 was an aberration in our community," said Ron Barber, the wounded district director for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who walked slowly to the stage with the support of a cane and his family. "It was not who we are. What happened afterward is who we are as a community."

That outpouring of love and good will and prayer? "That's the real Tucson, and you're here tonight," he said.

Barber, who received a sustained standing ovation, said the concert funds and other donations would benefit a foundation that will sponsor anti-bullying efforts in schools and focus on ways to address mental illness.

There were other moments of solemnity.

Emily Nottingham, mother of slain Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, said her son would agree that Tucson, at its best, is a caring, compassionate community that loves the desert and the people in it.

In truth, she said, sometimes Tucson falls short of being its best. And she said she hopes the fund will help the community reach that goal more often.

But there was also celebrating, for the deep power of Sam Moore to the folksy trill of Dar Williams. And when Ozomatli, a band that boycotted Arizona in the wake of its new immigration law, came to the stage, it was officially a full-on rock concert.

Several speakers hinted that they hoped this was the first annual benefit concert for the group.

Admittedly, some attendees said they really came just for the music. A trio of high school students said they couldn't define civility, but they could spot good music, and Cooper fit the bill.

But many had other reasons.

"It just seems like a good cause," said Lynn Schmidt, 48, a workforce development officer who lives a few blocks from the northwest-side grocery store where a 22-year-old college dropout opened fire on Giffords and a crowd of bystanders, killing six and wounding 13.

On her way to work every day, she said, she drove by the memorial at University Medical Center and saw the one at the grocery store. "When something hits that close, it has to have an impact on your life. And this just seems like a great opportunity to be part of the community."

Don Williams, 59, said he's a Browne fan, but it wouldn't matter to him if the headliner were Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band. "I would have come anyway, no matter what, because of the purpose: to have a little more peace, love, understanding and respect in this world." He said so many people have two or three degrees of separation from people who were killed or injured. "We're really all tied together," he said.

Marc Potish, a 58-year-old volunteer at the Primavera Foundation, wore a wristband commemorating Giffords. Although he felt deep sadness, he said the event changed him for the better, adding that he made a conscious effort to do a better job understanding people with different viewpoints.

Although the benefit was billed as a nonpartisan event to promote respect in public discourse, some handed out fliers notifying passers-by of a peace march to end warfare in the Middle East, while Kelly Stephenson gathered signatures for a Green Party petition.

"When you have something like what happened here, it takes a lot of bravery to be involved in political things," Stephenson said.


Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at or 573-4243. Contact reporter Cathalena Burch at or 573-4642.