Wednesday, May 16th was a gloomy, rainy day in South Florida, and it was also the day that the #ParklandStrong benefit concert was taking place in Pompano Beach, FL. The event hosted performances from William Ryan Key, formerly of Yellowcard, Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional, and pop-punk icons New Found Glory. The concert raised money from ticket sales, concessions, merchandise and sponsorships, which were donated to the Broward Education Foundation Stoneman Douglas Fund.

Upon arriving at the venue, maroon “MSD Strong” shirts were scattered throughout the crowd. Hundreds showed up showing their support for the victims and families affected by the tragedy. The grey sky lingered and was a reflection of how everyone felt when the news of the event flashed on local news just three months prior. The event also featured speed painter Michael Israel, whose work was later auctioned off for donation. Everyone working the event donated their time, including police officers, security, and more. #ParklandStrong existed to celebrate music for those that no longer can, and the community came together stronger than ever.

William Ryan Key took the stage at 6:30 p.m., performing an intimate acoustic set of tracks he had never performed before at his first official solo show. He opened up with “Old Friends,” “Vultures,” and “Form and Figure,” which are all new songs from his new EP Vultures, set to release on May 25. His set generated great crowd reaction after each new song that he performed, proving that he was a great opener for the night. He closed his set with “Ocean Avenue”, saying “I knew I couldn’t get away without playing this one for you guys,” before strumming the first opening note. Despite it being acoustic, everyone was on their feet belting each word in unison.

Chris Carrabba began his performance with a moment of silence, followed by an emotional rendition of “He Was a Friend of Mine,” after he listed off the names of the lives lost in the Florida shooting. I took a glance at the crowd during the song and most were holding each other with a glisten in their eye, taking in the performance with every fiber of their being. Emotion filled the air and created an unspeakable energy. Carrabba was also getting choked up, which added such an authentic note to his performance as a whole. He then performed various Dashboard Confessional hits, such as “We Fight,” and “Vindicated,” carrying long notes that shocked everyone in amazement. Rain started to fall during fan favorite “Stolen,” which was surreal and felt like it was straight out of a movie. Near the end of his set, a car drove by with loud bass that could be heard over the music, to which he stated that it was “the most Florida thing that could ever happen right now.” Carrabba ended his set strong with “Hands Down,” and everyone sang and danced along with him one last time.

Before their set, New Found Glory walked out on stage to read an emotional letter as a tribute to the victims and community. Jordan and Ian graduated from MSD, and they stated that it was important and personal to them to do as much as they possibly could to help the school and families of the victims. Chad stated that no one should have their youth stolen from them and that the show was dedicated to the 17 victims and their friends and family. Instead of a moment of silence, Chad asked for everyone to make as much noise as possible for those who no longer have a voice. A few minutes after their speech, the band ambushed the stage to “All Downhill From Here.” The crowd went wild and even photographers were getting a little rowdy, truly living up to what the band asked everyone to do.

The second NFG came out on stage, the sadness from the tragedy was erased in a moment, and everyone embraced the music and came together as one. The audience had a smile on their faces, beach balls flew through the air, and fans raised their fists to the sky as they sang along to “Understatement”. The guys were full of energy; jumping, posing, and pointing to those that were singing at the top of their lungs with their favorite band. Mid-set, a fan got called on stage to sing the beginning of “Failure’s Not Flattering,” and it was incredible. Balloons flew, lights flashed, and the crowd cheered. There was an incredible sense of camaraderie at the venue that night, and it is a show that I will never forget.