Brantley Gilbert and several close friends joined citizens of Chattanooga, Tennessee, this week to honor the five soldiers killed at a local military recruitment center on July 16.
More than 80,000 people gathered at the downtown riverfront Wednesday (Sept. 16) for Chattanooga Unite: A Tribute on the River, an event emceed by Chattanooga native Samuel L. Jackson that included performances by Trace Adkins, Colt Ford, Aaron Lewis, Jamey Johnson and Harry Connick Jr.
Gilbert initially envisioned the tribute as an intimate acoustic concert for the victims’ families and friends.
“The more we talked about it, we just thought the situation,” he told CMT Hot 20 Countdown. “The families and the community as a whole just deserved a more grand gesture. That’s when more ideas started flowing in.
“We just decided to throw a blowout. Let’s do something big for them, you know, because at the end of the day, we’ll never be able to bring their sons or their brothers or their husbands. We’ll never be able to bring them back, but maybe we can offer something.”
Chattanooga Unite: A Tribute on the River was expanded to encompass an entire day of events open to the public, including a military parade, special tributes and a night filled with healing music.
“The idea started really small and just kept growing and growing.,” Gilbert said. “And it was amazing you to see people outside of the country music world when something like this happens. … Samuel L. Jackson is a local from around here. It’s awesome to me when you see those guys say, ‘You know what? I’m going to share this.’”
For more on the tribute in Chattanooga, tune in to an all-new episode of CMT Hot 20 Countdown this Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 19-20) at 9 a.m. ET/PT.