Country Freedom Concert: Country’s Love Song to America

Tapping into the spirit of CMT’s Country Freedom Concert, Brooks & Dunn will team up with a surprise guest on the 1960’s pop hit “Get Together” during Sunday night’s (Oct. 21) 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, of Brooks & Dunn, says the duo were thinking about cutting the song for their next album even before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. “I initially thought it was a cool song, though maybe a little too peacenik by nature,” he says. “But you can really apply it to our domestic situation -– coming together under these kind of circumstances.”

Brooks & Dunn 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 also 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 8-11 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. Country.com will webcast the event free of charge. Tickets to attend the show in person are available through Ticketmaster.

With so many top names on the bill, the Country Freedom Concert will have tremendous symbolic value. 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 well 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,” says Brian Philips, CMT senior vice president/general manager. “This is the artists’ opportunity to speak to the audience and maybe vent some of what they have been thinking and going through. Everybody’s got their own take on it.”

The Country Freedom Concert will have a different feel than America: A Tribute to Heroes, the benefit special featuring a wide variety of actors and singers that aired on CMT and dozens of other networks on Sept. 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 reasons. “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 Sept. 11 and realizing that it’s now our obligation as Americans to make the most of the situation and galvanize the national spirit.

“The Country Freedom Concert is nothing more than a celebration of America,” Philips continues. “It’s country’s love song to America. Will there be moments of sad, tearful reflection? Absolutely, it’s inevitable. How could there not be? But I think that there also will be part of the show that is a celebration of the remarkable thing that is America and democracy. There may be an undercurrent of that defiant American spirit that says we will not be held down, we’re going to take this head on and deal with it and here we are.”

Toby Keith and Travis Tritt have taped segments for the program. Keith visited the World Trade Center site last Friday (Oct. 12) and spoke with firemen and Salvation Army workers about their recovery efforts. On Tuesday (Oct. 16), Tritt talked with military men and women at Dobbins Air Force Base near his hometown of Marietta, Ga.

Tritt had an engagement booked on the same day as the Country Freedom 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 says, “even though I’m not going to be able to perform there in person.”

Tritt hopes his piece will make a meaningful contribution to the benefit special 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 says. “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 believes entertainers are uniquely capable of providing solace during the crisis. “In tragic times,” he says, “[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. We’re not firemen, we’re not policemen. … Everybody has a gift and everybody’s trying to use it in the best way possible.”

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 says. “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, not only for the populace in general but also the soldiers and everyone else involved.”

Brooks & Dunn know this from first-hand experience. The duo played a fair in York, Pa., four days after one of the hijacked planes crashed in the state.

“It was a very eerie mood going in,” Dunn admits. “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 on stage 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 on stage 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 public access 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 recalls. “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.”

Aiming to boost morale again, Brooks & Dunn plan to perform “Only in America” Sunday night.

CMT and Clear Channel also hope viewers and listeners will be moved by the Salvation Army’s vital recovery efforts. The Country Freedom Concert will shed light on the non-profit organization’s work in the wake of the disaster. The Salvation Army has served nearly 3 million meals to rescue workers at the crash sites in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. Their volunteers have contributed over 350,000 hours of service to the disaster. The Salvation Army Relief Fund also is reaching out to the families of victims with emergency financial assistance. Salvation Army officials expect to be serving at the World Trade Center site for possibly as long as nine months.

In addition to all ticket proceeds, designated toll-free phone lines (1-800-Sal-Army) and Web sites (directed through country.com and salvationarmy.org) will take viewer and listener contributions.

Angela Gimlin contributed to this story.

Country Freedom Concert