There are songs that empower you to be a better you. And songs that empower you to build a better world. That's what's going to happen on Wednesday night's (June 8) CMT Music Awards when Sugarland take the stage to perform "Stand Up." The duo's say-something anthem will become something even bigger when siblings Tiffani and Lexi Gilbert from Joplin, Mo., join the band onstage.
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Sugarland will help reunite the sisters with their parents, Amy and Eric Gilbert, during the awards show airing live from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena at 8 p.m. ET/PT. They've been living apart since their family's home was declared a total loss following a May 22 tornado that tore through Joplin.
Sugarland recently released "Stand Up" on iTunes with download proceeds going to the American Red Cross. Viewers can visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to support the American Red Cross Disaster Relief efforts.
Sugarland's Kristian Bush told CMT.com he had started writing "Stand Up" when he discovered a chant-y feel he wanted to put in the chorus. He took the song to musical partner Jennifer Nettles' house, where they finished it that day.
"It's a really common experience in humanity," Bush said. "You go to school and you spend your time trying not to stick out in classroom. As a child, your parents tell you to behave yourself. I think a lot of times, what happens for those of us -- and I'm one of these kinds of people -- who take in a lot, you can stay quiet for too long. Who you are deserves to be expressed. And when you put that to music, you kind of let it out of the box."
Even Nettles thinks the line about "won't you stand up and use your voice" can evolve, depending on the situation. So on the awards show, when it becomes a song about the Gilberts and other families who've lost so much with the recent tornadoes and floods in the U.S., it will evolve even more.
"In that case, 'voice' can be a metaphor in saying, 'Use your talents, use your gifts, use what you've been given -- whatever that is -- to make a difference in the world,'" she said. "Just do something."
On May 22, Amy and Eric Gilbert and their daughters were just like any other family doing their thing -- chores, yard work, cooking out.
"We were ready to relax and watch it rain and have a family night," father Eric Gilbert told CMT.com. "Then we were watching TV, and I looked over at my wife and said, 'Is that a siren?'"
Once they realized yes, it was a siren, they went into their kitchen because that was their safe spot -- a center room with no windows.
"There was a helluva storm comin'," he said. "So I put my arms around everybody, and the house was just shaking. When it was finally still, I looked up, and the roof was gone. I saw sky."
When the family felt safe enough to walk outside, Gilbert said "horrific" was not a strong enough word for it.
"The roof was gone," he recalled. "All our oak trees were blown over. There was debris from our house all over the yard. Even debris from other people's homes. The house shook so bad that the mortar came loose. You can walk right up and take a brick right off my house. Right now, it is classified as totally uninhabitable."
The morning after the tornado, Gilbert's mom came and took Lexi and Tiffani to stay with family in Kansas. And the only time they came back to Joplin to see the house, Lexi tried to go back in to see the damage for herself.
"She could barely stand the stench," Gilbert said. "The wet fiberglass, the mold, it was just terrible. So a young man from the National Guard saw how upset she was and said, 'Baby, is there something in there that you need?' Lexi told him, 'I want my Justin Bieber blanket.' And he went and got it."
You will see the Gilbert girls walking up onstage with Sugarland tonight, carrying a substantial white flag spray painted with the word "Love" on it. Why the flag?
"I like the simple idea that anybody can take a bed sheet, tie it to a stick and paint something on it and wave it," Bush explained. "And I think that matters. That's the metaphor of what it means to say something."
Nettles thinks having the Gilberts be part of their performance not only raises awareness about the devastation so many have faced, but that it helps the victims themselves.
"As with any tragedy," she said, "a lot of the healing comes from people being able to share their stories."
The Gilberts know how much the American Red Cross does for families like theirs who need help.
"My dad raised me to be self-sufficient," Eric Gilbert said. "But you can't be self-sufficient in times like this. You just can't. You need help. So when we got this call to have the girls be part of Sugarland's performance, we knew this was where we needed to be. We watch these shows on TV all the time.
"The girls might get a little nervous tonight," he added. "But I told them, 'You are waving that flag for Joplin'."