Over the past few years, I have been blessed to cover your career in various settings. That being said, what you pulled off on the evening of September 16 in downtown Chattanooga stands as perhaps your greatest accomplishment yet – and that’s saying something.
I made the trip to Chattanooga for the Unite concert, which was held to salute the memory – as well as the legacies of five military personnel shot down in cold blood by a spineless coward in the city on July 16. This wasn’t happening in Baghdad, Benghazi, or Syria. This took place in the heart of the south – the back yard of Rock City, for crying out loud. There were so many emotions that we as Americans felt that day. Hurt, dismay, fear….and then anger.
After the dust settled, the fact remained. Five families were changed – forever. After CNN, FOX News, the USA Today, and all the other media left town, there was still an empty place at their tables. That will never change.
From there, the city of Chattanooga went on the initiative, coming up with the idea to have this day – Chattanooga Unite – to celebrate those who fell, as well as to uplift the survivors and each other, as fellow Americans. After all, as Samuel Jackson said in his remarks to the crowd there that afternoon – “if people like the killer thought he was going to strike permanent fear on the city – he had ‘The Wrong Town’.”
We did our interview, and then I proceeded to walk around the downtown area. Over 50,000 came to the Hamilton Country center that night, and as I looked around – I saw…..America. I saw Old. Young. Black. White. Hispanic. Men with their caps turned around backwards who had likely never heard of Haggard, and women who very well might have had a thing for him in 1975. I saw people from all walks – getting along. The only verbal fight I saw was between a man and a woman, which I don’t think even you can prevent those from happening. As I began to make my way to my car, I heard you and Colt Ford do “Dirt Road Anthem.” But, it wasn’t just you two performing it. It was just about everybody on that hillside. Singing along. Together. The media tells us all the time that we can’t get along with each other. The Democrats hate the Republicans. Bickering between races and genders. I think that both Bill O’ Reilly and Chris Matthews – as far apart as two people can be – should have been front and center last night. It can be done.
But, it shouldn’t surprise me. You are just being you, and that is what affects people. I say that, because I don’t know if you have noticed or not – I’m not in your target demographic – not that you spend a lot of time worrying about things like that. I don’t have a tattoo, nor do I wear chains. Unless I get lucky and find that mysterious blonde / brunette / red-head that keeps eluding me, I’m likely not going to be found in a field at 2am in a truck. That’s not me. I like air conditioning. Diet Pepsi. Kenny Rogers. But, I am also a huge Brantley Gilbert fan…..and I think many more should be as well. You know what you are singing about – whether being a “Bad Boy” or being on the road “Miles” apart from the ones you love. People see the chains and the tattoos, and I for one hope you keep that….but if they ever get to see the man and the artist, as I have – I know they will be forever impressed.
People ask me who my favorite artists are to deal with, and I’ve got to say you’re right at the top of the list as far as male artists go. I look at you and Kellie Pickler, and wonder why you’re not household names. You are two of the most-legit “bad asses” in the business, and I respect you! And, that’s “One Hell of An Amen!”
Photo Credit: Dusty Barker