Brantley Gilbert Honors Fallen Servicemen & Their Families at Chattanooga Unite

Dusty Barker
Brantley Gilbert performs at Chattanooga Unite: A Tribute On The River in 2015.

It has often been said that music has a healing power. While the events of July 16 in Chattanooga, Tenn., where four Marines and one Navy sailor were killed, left emotional scars on many in the area that will never go away, the Tennessee river city came together Wednesday with Chattanooga Unite. The afternoon-long parade and concert brought over 50,000 to pay tribute to Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire "Skip" Wells and Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith, each of whom were shot at a naval facility in the city. At the same time, the day also served as a nod to their families and a celebration for the freedom and country those men served.

The event featured appearances from local native Samuel L. Jackson and Harry Connick, Jr., who performed as part of the musical lineup. Representing the country format was Brantley Gilbert. Though not a native of the city, or the state of Tennessee (the Valory recording artist is from about two hours away in Jefferson, Ga.), Gilbert complimented local radio station and event organizer US 101 WUSY for its efforts, saying he knew he wanted to do something to help out the families affected.

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"US 101 was there right off the bat," Gilbert told Billboard before the show. "Everything started off as a small acoustic setting, and as time went on ... more people came to the table and answered the call. It ended up turning into a lot bigger deal and we just decided that the families and the community deserved a lot more grand gesture. That's when everything pretty much exploded, and it turned into all this."

Gilbert said he didn't have to be from nearby to be affected by the tragedy and confessed to feeling a myriad of emotions. 

"I can tell you that, just like everybody, there were a lot of thoughts that went through me," he said. "First of all, you have shock. You just can’t believe something like this has happened. Then that turns to sadness and it's an overwhelming sense of sadness -- because it didn’t happen overseas in a foreign country, it happened here at home. I think that added to the shock factor. And then, for me, you have anger, which takes a while for me personally to deal with. Then, after all of the emotions settled in, you think, 'Okay. How can I help? What can I do?' That's when the conversation gets kicked back and forth on trying to put something together for these guys."

It seems that Gilbert made some lifelong fans and friends during the event. Spend any amount of time with the singer during the day, and one couldn’t be more amazed or touched by how many military personnel, policemen and civilians were stopping to thank the singer for his role in the event during pre-concert festivities. He said the day had been one of the most involved and rewarding of his career.

"It's been an awesome day," he continued. "We've been really busy today from the word go. I woke up and my tour manager had already posted my day sheet on the wall and it was so much busier than we planned. But that’s all good. That's why we're here."

The concert also featured appearances from Trace Adkins, Aaron Lewis and Colt Ford -- who elicited a strong response from the crowd with a duet of "Dirt Road Anthem" with Gilbert. The two penned the song, which Jason Aldean took to the top in the summer of 2011. The singer said he was glad for the help at the event, which helped to bring the city together. 

"This is completely for the community of Chattanooga and for the families," said Gilbert. "All of the proceeds will go to them. I think throughout the day today, there has been time to remember and time to mourn, and time to honor legacies. I would never in a million years try to take anything away from that. But I think the energy that we are going to try to bring is to celebrate the lives and those legacies."