Sugarland will sing an emotional version of their song "Stand Up" tonight on the CMT Awards - and the song will have a special meaning for the Gilberts, a family from Joplin, Mo., whose home was devastated by a tornado last month. Tiffani and Lexi Gilbert will will wave flags and sing a long during the group's performance, and show producers will call upon viewers to make donations to the Red Cross during the performance. The show begins at 8 p.m. ET.
During a rehearsal for the show on Tuesday, Tiffani and Lexi were reunited with their parents, Amy and Eric, for the first time since May 22, apart from a few hours they'd spent together viewing the wreckage of their home.
Video: Sugarland Q&A at CMT Awards Rehearsal
The family was brought to the network's attention by a personal friend who works for MTV. CMT producers approached Sugarland about incorporating the family into their performance of "Stand Up" on the show; the song was recently released with download proceeds going to the Red Cross. The family, who are big fans of Sugarland, met the group during rehearsals.
When Sugarland's Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles wrote "Stand Up," they had no idea the impact it would have on the lives of people whose lives were thrown into turmoil by last month's storms in the Midwest and Southeast.
Nettles and Bush use the song as the encore on their current Incredible Music Machine Tour, and on May 6 in Chicago they invited touring partners Little Big Town to join them onstage to sing the tune. That performance, called "Stand Up For Tornado Relief," which shows not only the six vocalists harmonizing on the powerful lyrics but audience members waving flags and singing along, is available for download on iTunes as both an audio track and a high-definition performance video. All proceeds goes to the American Red Cross for tornado relief in Alabama and Joplin.
"The great thing about making this download available is that it is something that will continue to give; there is no limit as to how much it can raise for relief efforts for the Red Cross," Bush told Billboard on Tuesday.
The idea for the song was Bush's, and he had part of it written when he arrived at Nettles' door one morning for a writing session. "Really, all we had to do was finish the second verse and we had a song," Nettles said.
The Gilbert family had not seen each other since the day after the tornado, when the girls went to stay with family while their mom and dad tried to make sense out of the wreckage that was their home. In that time period, they have purchased a new home and all four will be together again by the end of June. In the meantime, they are in Nashville to be on the awards tonight and participate in the CMA Music Fest, which is being held Thursday through Sunday.
"It has been very hard to be away from Tiffani and Lexi, but Joplin is no place for children to be right now," a tearful Amy Gilbert said. "When we were driving to Nashville, Lexi just started crying and I asked her what was wrong and she said she had just missed us so much. It is so good for us to be together, if just for a little while. But since we were able to buy a house so quickly, we know it won't be long until we'll all be back together again permanently."
Lexi is especially excited that Justin Bieber is scheduled to be on the show, and during Tuesday's rehearsal, she kept asking if she could just go up and sit in the seat where he is supposedly going to sit tonight.
Eric Gilbert described the day of the storm as a regular day, with the possibility of rain later in the evening. "We even measured Lexi's height on a wall where we had been charting her growth progress," he said. "It was significant later that we had done that, because people going through our house found that board and cut it out and brought it to us. We'll always have that as a piece of our history from that day."
When a huge oak tree fell in their back yard, the family took shelter first in the kitchen, then in a bathroom, as winds howled and rain pelted the home whose roof had already partially blown away. Lexi recounted how their two dogs, Prince and Tinkerbell, were in the house with them and how brave they were throughout the storm. Two days later a neighbor, who was helping to clean up the debris, found their cat Tigger crouching under a piece of furniture, waiting to be reunited with its family.
Sugarland is just one part of the country music community who has offered help and support for the recent storm victims, and Nettles was quick to praise their peers. "Our friends in country music have big hearts and are among the first to step up to give back when there is a need to help people who have suffered loss."
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