As it turns out, Wednesday’s Rock to the Rescue benefit concert at Bloomington, Ill.'s U.S. Cellular Coliseum was aptly named. Although organizers won’t have a final tally until early next week, they already know that they raised more than $300,000, with additional funds still to come as online donations and merchandise sales continue.

The money will aid central Illinois residents, many of whom had their homes damaged or destroyed when recent storms brought tornadoes and high winds to the area. Having cut their teeth as rockers in the Illinois music scene, the members of Styx and REO Speedwagon knew they had to do something to help. They quickly assembled an all-star lineup of their Midwestern musical brethren that would have been an impressive evening of entertainment without any additional enhancements.

But as the house lights went down, more than 7,000 fans at the sold-out concert would soon discover that more surprises were waiting in the wings. Ted Nugent, a late addition to the lineup, joined Styx and his former Damn Yankees bandmate Tommy Shaw for a few songs. REO Speedwagon also welcomed both Larry the Cable Guy (the benefit's MC) and fellow Illinois native Richard Marx to the stage.

But the most unexpected moment of the night came when former REO guitarist Gary Richrath joined the band onstage for the first time since his departure in 1989. Richrath, who has performed live very sporadically since leaving the band, came out to guest on the group’s signature ‘Ridin’ the Storm Out,’ one of many songs that he wrote during his time with REO.

We reached out to REO’s Kevin Cronin, and he told us the story of how it all came together:

"From the moment we started planning this benefit concert for the Illinois tornado victims, we were thinking how cool it would be if Gary were there. Unfortunately, we had no luck getting a hold of him.

[It] turns out he had been sitting on the porch of his mother Eunice's house in East Peoria when the sky darkened. He knew exactly what was coming. Luckily, the tornadoes missed them.

Gary was in great spirits when he walked into the dressing room. We hugged one another, I told him how happy I was that he came, and he expressed his gratitude for the invitation. Dave [Amato] had set up one of his Marshall amps for Gary to play through. Gary brought along a vintage Les Paul, and the stage was set. When I introduced ‘the guy who this band wouldn't be here without’ and Richrath came up for ‘Ridin' the Storm Out,’ 7,000 people went crazy. The response was arm-hair raising ... We all felt it. It was fun to look over to my left and see Richrath digging in and playing like only he can. It was a night for the ages.

There was a video crew working to capture the event, so with luck we will have something in the not-too-distant future.

Naturally Bruce [Hall], Neal [Doughty] and I were happy to see Gary, but it was really cool the way Bryan [Hitt] and Dave hung with him and made him feel welcome and respected. It was a great vibe all around ... Made me feel proud to be part of the REO family."

You can still donate by visiting the official Rock to the Rescue website here.

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