NASHVILLE — Tapping into the spirit of CMT's "Country Freedom Concert," Brooks & Dunn will team up with a surprise guest on the 1960s pop hit "Get Together" during Sunday night's star-studded benefit show.
Originally released by the Youngbloods in 1967 — when both the Vietnam War and the Summer of Love were in full swing — "Get Together" includes the familiar chorus "Come on, people now/ Smile on your brother/ Everybody get together/ Try to love one another right now."
Ronnie Dunn said the duo were thinking about cutting the song for their next album even before the terrorist attacks on September 11. "I initially thought it was a cool song, though maybe a little too peacenik by nature," he said. "But you can really apply it to our domestic situation — coming together under these kinds of circumstances."
Brooks & Dunn will get together with many of the biggest names in country music for the "Country Freedom Concert," a benefit for the Salvation Army's Disaster Relief Fund. The lineup includes George Strait, Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Clint Black, Vince Gill, George Jones, Trisha Yearwood, Lonestar, Lee Ann Womack, Sara Evans, Hank Williams Jr., Earl Scruggs, Diamond Rio and Montgomery Gentry.
Presented by CMT and Clear Channel Entertainment, the concert will air live and commercial-free from 8 to 11 p.m. ET on CMT, CMT Canada and VH1 Country from the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville. Westwood One will provide the concert's audio feed to radio stations worldwide, while Country.com will webcast the event.
Although country artists frequently turn out in force for awards shows or festival concerts, such a gathering of star power in support of a single cause may be unprecedented.
"This show is a unified statement from these artists who are looking for a [forum] to let the rest of the world know that the country-music community has a point of view and has the power to make good happen out of all this," said Brian Philips, CMT senior vice president/general manager.
The Country Freedom Concert will have a different feel than "America: A Tribute to Heroes," the telethon featuring a wide variety of actors and singers that aired on dozens of networks on September 21. Whereas that program was somber and reverent throughout, Sunday's concert will be more varied in tone.
"We are further down the road from the date of the 'Heroes' concert," Philips said. "I thought the tone of the 'Heroes' show was completely appropriate for the timing. Gradually, we're all sort of awakening from the terrific shock of the events of September 11 and realizing that it's now our obligation as Americans to make the most of the situation and galvanize the national spirit.
Toby Keith and Travis Tritt have taped segments for the program. Keith visited the World Trade Center site on October 12 and spoke with firefighters and Salvation Army workers about their recovery efforts. On Tuesday, Tritt talked with members of the military at Dobbins Air Force Base near his hometown of Marietta, Georgia.
Tritt had an engagement booked on the same day as the concert, so he looked for another way to be involved with the program. "I want to let people know that I'm going to be there in spirit," he said.
He went on to say that he hopes his piece will make a meaningful contribution by offering the perspective of enlisted men and women. "I've had a lot of experience working with veterans and people in the military," he said. "I think I understand their feelings and hopes and dreams and fears. … I feel very comfortable interviewing those folks because I've had an opportunity to really spend a lot of time with them."
Gill said he believes entertainers are uniquely capable of providing solace during the crisis. "In tragic times," he said, "[listeners] want to hear familiarity. They want to hear the people they love sing. That brings a lot of comfort to folks. And for us, speaking as an artist, we want to do our part."
Dunn couldn't agree more. "During any trying era in history, people just naturally have turned to entertainment for stress relief, for brief moments, if nothing else," Dunn said. "It feels good to be able to contribute in that small capacity. It doesn't seem as strong a statement as putting your life on the line, like a lot of these soldiers are doing now. But it's necessary for morale."
Brooks & Dunn know this from firsthand experience. The duo played a fair in York, Pennsylvania, four days after one of the hijacked planes crashed in the state.
"It was a very eerie mood going in," Dunn admitted. "The first thing that came to my mind was that we would cancel the show. I initially thought there's no way we could go up onstage and jump around and sing songs in a situation like this. We spoke with the promoter, and he told us no one was canceling their tickets, that everyone was still coming and wanted to see the show.
"Just before we went onstage I realized that the first song we sing is 'Only in America.' The first line in the show is 'Sun coming up over New York City.' At first I wanted to pull that song. Then I started thinking there's a positive note to it — it focuses on hope and the American spirit."
Brooks & Dunn opened the show like they had throughout their tour, with their guitarist playing the national anthem. Then, from backstage where the crowd couldn't see him, Dunn addressed the audience over the PA system. Reading a short note he wrote earlier in the day, the singer explained the duo's doubts about performing and their reason for going on with the show. He told the concertgoers, "It's not time to let the cowards' act of terrorism affect us the way they intended."
"The crowd started cheering," Dunn recalled. "I had to stop reading twice. I still get goose bumps thinking about it. After I read it, the band immediately went into the downbeat on 'Only in America,' and the crowd was so loud you could hardly hear the band. When I was finally able to see the crowd, I just saw a sea of American flags. It was unbelievable."
MTVi's parent company, Viacom, also owns CMT