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Hip hop and help
T.I., Ashanti and Eve perform in benefit for Georgia military

America's Heroes Celebration

Where: Martin Luther King Jr. Arena, Savannah Civic Center, 307 W. Oglethorpe Ave.

When: At 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15

Tickets: $32-$100 at

What's the difference between the 4th of July and the 15th of August?

OK, smart guy, in practical terms it's something like 41 days.

For South Georgia military families, it's the difference between no celebration at all and the biggest party of the summer.

Million-selling rap artist T.I. headlines the "America's Heroes Celebration" Aug. 15 in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Arena, and he's doing it — smack in the middle of a cross-country, co-headlining tour with Lil' Wayne — purely because the Fourth of July concert at Fort Stewart was canceled this year.

Well, it's a little more complicated than that — but not much. T.I. (aka Atlanta-born Clifford Joseph Harris Jr.) just got in line with a whole bunch of people who wanted to make things better.

The show, which will also include performances from R&B/hip hop vocalists Ashanti and Eve, was the brainchild of a group of local business leaders. Military veteran Christopher Dorm, who operates a veteran-services company called Military Deals and Discounts, coordinated a multi-day event on Jekyll Island, with family activities and a concert by country artist Rodney Atkins.

The business brain trust began thinking about expanding to Savannah.

"Then T.I. expressed interest," Dorm explains. "He basically was like 'I got one day off, and it's August 15. If you can make arrangements to get me to Savannah on that one day. I will come and do your benefit concert.'"

Dorm and company, the squeaky wheels, got the grease in the form of California filmmaker Ryan Combs, who brokered the week's entertainment and will be documenting the Savannah concert.

"I kind of knew somebody that knew somebody," Combs says, "just the whole Hollywood thing. I think it was one degree of separation. And I'd met T.I. a few times.

"I knew he was from this area, and his fan base was huge, obviously, in his home state. When we told him it was for the military he said 'If you can make it work for that one day, we'll make it happen.' And obviously Mr. Dorm made it happen."

Ashanti, who has a co-starring role on the cable series Army Wives, came on board shortly after T.I. agreed.

"My wife's an Army officer who just got back from Afghanistan," Dorm says. "When I brought up Ashanti, she told me that Ashanti had just performed for the troops on the Fourth of July in Eastern Europe. She said some of her soldiers went to the concert. So when Ryan said 'We've got Ashanti,' I was like, that's ironic.

"The next thing I know, I'm on the phone with Ashanti's manager and he's like 'What do you need? When do you need it?' And after that, they brought up Eve. So I'm like wow, it's Christmas in Savannah."

Along with a serious discount for military personnel and their families, the event organizers distributed 1,200 free concert tickets at Fort Stewart.

A large part of the proceeds will go directly to programs for military families. "It's cheaper than any other T.I. concert," says Dorm. "The reason we were able to keep the ticket cost so low is that he's practically coming here for nothing."

(Just so we're clear, Lil' Wayne is not on this particular bill.)

For Combs, who's hoping to get a movie or TV special out of the proceedings, it's all about giving back.

"I'm a military fan and always have been," he says. "You know, the war has just gone on ... a few years ago, I was watching something about military families, and it just kinda clicked. I was like 'If I ever have the chance to do anything for the military, it would be awesome.'

"Then my manager was telling me about the area, about how all the branches are represented. And how there was a lot of cutbacks on the bases. They lost a lot of things that they normally did. They took away the Easter egg hunt for the kids!"