Whether they realized it or not, Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley brought out the best in all of their guests at Monday’s (Aug. 29) Dig Your Roots Live celebration at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York City.
The event was held in the Great Hall on the second floor where in its heyday between the years 1892 and 1924, 12.1 million immigrants began new lives in the United States.
Unlike the casual get-to-know-you chit-chat that usually goes down at most Nashville music industry events, all around the Hall were conversations about family ties to the historic place over the sounds of the new music blasting over the loudspeakers. For those lucky enough to be there, it was an authentic way to connect with one another.
Before arriving at Ellis Island, a ferry named the Miss New Jersey motored guests across a choppy New York Harbor to see the Statue of Liberty at sunset. Between the strong wind gusts and the rocking boat, many ladies on board in dresses and skirts struggled to avoid any Marilyn Monroe moments while snapping photos of Lady Liberty against the fading night sky.
Everyone was wind blown and the stars were shining above by the time the ferry reached its final destination at Ellis Island. Walking past displays of oversized antique trunks, a few rangers with the U.S. National Park Service directed guests upstairs where servers carried trays of Old Camp cocktails that were ready and chilled for their arrival.
Then Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard greeted guests one by one into the Great Hall with hugs and a photo opportunity. Overhead, the tiled ceiling was lit up in a burnt orange with a spotlight spelling, “FGL,” shining between some hanging chandeliers.
Five different food stations offered gourmet selections of Southern barbecue and New York staples, including deli sandwiches, pizza slices and boiled hotdogs. Those who decided to have booze with their meal had their choice of either wine, Budweiser or more Old Camp cocktails.
Toward the back of the event, a table offered new Google Cardboards to watch a 360-degree behind-the-scenes look of the new “May We All” video using smartphones. Those unfamiliar with Google Cardboard, it’s a box with 3D lenses that can turn watching 360-degree content online on any smartphone into an immersive virtual reality experience. Testing one out made one look like they were playing with a modern day ‘80s View Master, but it’s a pretty cool device that’s available online starting at $15.00.
A park ranger shared an inspiring history on Ellis Island days after the National Park Service celebrated its centennial.
“One hundred years ago,” he said, “I assure you there were no open bars. There were no hors d’oeuvres, but there were a lot of stories. Ellis Island is a story of fear and the unknown. For many of these folks, it took them years to save money to travel to this strange land.”
“They would sail by the Statue of Liberty and although she was built with nothing to do with immigration — she was built to celebrate the friendship between the United States and France — and for those 12 million immigrants that began their lives here, they saw that statue as a symbol of hope. It was a place where they would be able to find a job or perhaps they would be able to practice the religion of their choice without fear of persecution. And for many, it would be their success story.”
When the ranger asked how many people at the party were directly related to someone who immigrated through Ellis Island, nearly half the crowd raised their hands. “That’s pretty close,” he said. “According to census information, more than 40-percent of the current population residing in this nation is related to at least one of those 12 million immigrants.” A free online database actually offers an opportunity for descendants of Ellis Island immigrants to search for their ancestors.
When label president Scott Borchetta took the stage, he revealed his grandfather immigrated to America through the very room where his company was throwing the party, which was definitely an occasion that would have made his grandpa proud. “For all of us to stand here and take all this in, is pretty incredible,” he said. Next, he surprised Kelley and Hubbard with plaques commemorating the multi-chart No. 1 and platinum-selling hit “H.O.L.Y.,” which spent 16 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
As Hubbard and Kelley made their way to the stage, applause echoed through the hall. First, Hubbard thanked folks in the room for their support since the release of their runaway hit debut, “Cruise.” “It’s an exciting time for us, but it wouldn’t be possible without you guys,” he said. “We’re so grateful for that. We just want to be real with you guys and be ourselves. It’s cool to feel the acceptance and the love from each and every one of you guys.”
“This is just completely humbling,” Kelley said when it was his turn to speak. “I think Tyler and I had the most fun making this record. It was the most spiritual time, challenging of times and exciting of times, and we’ve grown a lot throughout the process. Hopefully it’s shown. We’ve always said there’s a lot of sides to who we are and it’s hard to show all of those sides in just a couple of records. We’re both kind of getting started and hopefully y’all are digging what we’re doing.”
Next, Aaron Luber, Google Cardboard’s Head of Partnerships, was welcomed to the stage to introduce the world premiere of the “May We All” video co-starring Tim McGraw. The high-octane clip has the duo acting as a pair of competitive, racecar-driving brothers with McGraw playing their coach. Award-winning filmmaker TK McKamy directed the piece, which was shot over two days at the Tennessee National Raceway in Hohenwald, Tennessee. And if fans haven’t seen it yet, they won’t want to miss the explosive ending.
When the lights came on, Hubbard and Kelley returned to the stage to resume the party with a toast. “Cheers to another life-changing record, and cheers to ‘May We All,’” Hubbard said. “Thanks you guys.”
At the end of the night the Miss New Jersey ferried guests back to Battery Park as the lights of downtown Manhattan glittered on the water in the harbor.