How Rock Music Revived A Nation: All The Unforgetable 9/11 Concert Tributes

How Rock Music Revived A Nation: All The Unforgetable 9/11 Concert Tributes | I Love Classic Rock Videos

via Bon Jovi Live Concerts / Youtube

It has been more than two decades since the tragic 9/11 attacks, yet the haunting impact of the tragedy remains palpable even today. 

On that fateful Tuesday morning, the horrifying events of hijacked planes crashing into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and rural Pennsylvania claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 individuals and left over 6,000 others wounded.

The wounded America turned to lots of things in order to find solace, one of them being music. Tribute performances were organized, and songs were composed to provide comfort to the grieving and pay homage to the heroes who were lost.

Two big concerts that helped raise funds for the victims emerged: America: A Tribute To Heroes, which was broadcast on Fox, ABC, NBC, and CBS on September 21, 2001, and The Concert For New York City, which aired on VH1 on October 20, 2001, held at Madison Square Garden.

These events delivered some of the most emotionally stirring performances in the history of rock music and played a crucial role in uplifting a grieving nation still grappling with profound loss. Here are nine of the most remarkable performances from these concerts.

America: A Tribute To Heroes


The Piano Man’s romantic ode to the “City That Never Sleeps” has become a pop standard ever since it was released in 1976 as a fan favorite off his album Turnstiles. “New York State of Mind” was covered by a multitude of artists including the likes of Barbra Streisand, Lea Michele and Melissa Benoist, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and more.

But the song unexpectedly transformed into a unifying anthem and a source of solace in the aftermath of 9/11, thanks to Joel’s rendition of the song during America: A Tribute to Heroes, which was widely praised and is considered a memorable and emotional moment in the concert. 

His heartfelt rendition struck a chord with the audience and served as a symbol of resilience and unity in the wake of the tragic attacks. Many viewers and music critics lauded the performance for its ability to provide comfort and inspiration during a challenging time. 

Joel revisited the theme and performed “New York State of Mind” once again during his appearance at the 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief held at Madison Square Garden in New York City on December 12, 2012.


Another song that took a new meaning after the attacks was Bruce Springsteen’s “My City of Ruins”. Penned in November 2000, the acclaimed songwriter composed it specifically for a Christmas benefit show in Asbury Park, New Jersey, aimed at supporting the city’s rejuvenation efforts. 

Asbury Park, once a thriving resort destination during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had fallen into a state of decline due to various factors, including the adverse impacts of the Great Depression, the establishment of the Garden State Parkway, and episodes of racial unrest.

Shortly after the tragic events of September 11th, the song took on a renewed significance, offering a message of hope and resurgence amidst the devastation. Its most iconic live rendition was during America: A Tribute to Heroes

Bruce Springsteen, armed with only a guitar and a harmonica, initiated the program by describing the song as “a prayer for our fallen brothers and sisters,” making slight modifications to certain lyrics. He was joined onstage by Patti Scialfa, Steven Van Zandt, Soozie Tyrell, Lisa Lowell, and Clarence Clemons. 

Following this, a studio recording of “My City of Ruins” was included as the final track on Bruce Springsteen’s album The Rising, released in July 2002, which was dedicated to the events of September 11th.


The closing performance of the telethon was an ensemble of artists singing “America the Beautiful” led by Willie Nelson – a poignant and moving gesture resonated deeply with the audience and spectators from their homes.

“America the Beautiful” was a well-known American patriotic song written and composed by two people who never met: Katharine Lee Bates, an author and poet, and Samuel A. Ward, a composer and choirmaster.

With it being as popular as the national anthem “Star-Spangled Banner”, the aptly chosen closing theme conveyed a sense of unity and solidarity in the face of the 9/11 tragedy; a fitting and emotional conclusion to the concert.

Willie Nelson sang along with a backup of stars that were involved in the concert such as Tom Petty, Tom Cruise, Neil Young, Sylvester Stallone, Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, and more.


“Imagine” deserves a place in every moving tribute to tragedies around the world. It was one of the most recognizable songs ever written and its enduring relevance reminds people to hold onto hope, even in the face of adversity, and to believe in the possibility of a better, more harmonious world.

For America: A Tribute to Heroes, folk icon Neil Young took the mantle and delivered one of the best goosebumps-inducing performances of the night. But it was almost not included thanks to the knee-jerk reaction of a memo from Clear Channel (known today as iHeartMedia), who wanted to ban “Imagine” among others for having “questionable” lyrics.

It’s certainly hard to think of a song more befitting in the wake of a tragedy that stunned the modern world. Thank god for the iconic nonconformist who took it upon himself to laugh at the said memo and simply sang the supposedly banned song.

Remarkably, Young introduced a subtle alteration to the song’s lyrics. In place of the original “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can” in the third verse, Young shifts the focus inward and sings, “I wonder if I can.”

This adjustment transforms what might have seemed slightly preachy into a more profound philosophical reflection, emphasizing the notion that true change begins with one’s self. It’s a modest yet thoughtfully placed revision that enhances the timeless appeal of one of the most cherished songs in history.


Following the attacks, Tom Petty’s single from his 1989 debut solo record Full Moon Fever regained popularity as a recurring feature on American radio and became a rallying cry for many Americans. During a period when the nation sought unity, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers emerged as a unifying voice.

“I Won’t Back Down,” was originally began as an anthem of resilience when Petty and Jeff Lynne crafted its lyrics in the late 1980s: “No, I’ll stand my ground / Won’t be turned around / And I’ll keep this world from dragging me down / Gonna stand my ground.”

Interestingly, not backing down was already displayed the previous year by the late singer-songwriter when he requested then-candidate George W. Bush to stop using the song at his campaign rallies.

The Concert for New York City


David Bowie took the stage on October 20, 2001, at Madison Square Garden for The Concert for New York City, just a little over a month after the tragic events of September 11. The atmosphere was somber, emotions were raw, and the city was still in shock. Bowie’s presence that night was not just about the music; it was a testament to the resilience and spirit of New York City.

Though his beautiful rendition of Simon & Garfunkel‘s “America” received praises, Bowie’s “Heroes” earned him one of the best standing ovations of the night. With lyrics that speak of hope and strength, the song became an anthem for a city and a nation in need of healing. 

When Bowie delivered the song with the lines “Oh we can be Heroes, just for one day”, he connected with the audience on a deeply emotional level. It was a moment where music transcended entertainment and became a source of solace and inspiration.


After witnessing the Twin Towers collapse from his seat aboard a plane grounded at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, Paul McCartney knew he had to do something and composed this song with the intention of passionately advocating for the universal right to freedom.

McCartney concluded The Concert for New York City with a set of six songs, which included classics like “Yesterday” and “Let It Be”, and rightfully ended it with the freshly penned composition crafted just a day after the tragedy. “That’s one thing these people don’t understand that’s worth fighting for,” the Beatle said.

He came back out for the reprise of the song with Eric Clapton and Jon Bon Jovi, involving the audience as they shout “Freedom!” while the song goes on.


The Who enjoyed the most fervent of applauses that night with their lengthy performance starting with a roar with their classic hit “Who Are You” and reaching the peak of excitement with the rousing and defiant rendition of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.

The stage for the band featured both an American flag and a British flag, symbolizing a strong display of unity. As vocalist Roger Daltrey addressed the audience of first responders and their families, he left them with heartfelt words: “We could never follow what you did”. 

Earlier, as the opening chords of “Behind Blue Eyes” played, Daltrey humbly remarked, “I don’t deserve to wear this,” when handed a law enforcement officer’s cap. Forbes characterized The Who’s performance as a deeply emotional release for the law enforcement personnel present.

Sadly, it would turn out to be John Entwistle’s last performance in America with The Who; the iconic bassist died of a heart attack only eight months later.