- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Country music star Faith Hill says giving back just comes naturally for the Mississippi native, and she has a message for those still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

“We are here for you still and you are not forgotten,” Hill said before headlining a free concert Tuesday evening in New Orleans to support those still rebuilding five years later.

She said the evening at the Mahalia Jackson Theater was intended to celebrate how far the Gulf Coast has come since the 2005 storm flooded New Orleans and surrounding areas of Louisiana and Mississippi.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility to give back,” Hill said. “When you’ve been given so much, it’s only right that I do what I can to help, if I can.”

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band opened Tuesday’s event and about 2,200 tickets were distributed in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette and the Mississippi cities of Biloxi and Jackson.

Mona Rowe, of Perkinston, Miss., said she was glad to have the opportunity to see Hill perform.

“She is just outstanding,” Rowe said. “She knows and understands what we went through and what we’re trying to do.”

Hill took the stage after the Dirty Dozen’s set, opening with her hits “Free” and “Wild One” before bringing the New Orleans-based brass band back on stage to play backup on her song, “There Will Come A Day.”

“The Dirty Dozen Brass Band must come back on stage,” Hill told the audience, to rousing applause. “You guys were simply amazing.”

After singing “This Kiss,” one of her No. 1 hits, and “Let Me Let Go,” Hill told the crowd that she didn’t know where the music might take her.

“This city inspires great music and sometimes when I get together with my band I never know what will happen. We want you to just sit back and forget about it all and just have a great time. Can you do that?” she asked, getting yells and applause in response.

Lola Russell, a paramedic from New Orleans, said she was one of the lucky first-responders to receive a free ticket to the event.

She said Hill’s performance helps to keep the recovery in the spotlight.

“She brought all these people here,” Russell said. “They’ll probably get a room tonight, go out after the concert and pour even more money into our economy. That can’t do anything but help the city’s recovery.”

Hill’s husband, country singer Tim McGraw, is a Louisiana native and both are veterans of employing celebrity clout to help raise money or awareness for causes.

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