In many ways, platinum Country heavyweight BRANTLEY GILBERT is an outlier. The Georgia-born-and-remaining songwriter came to town to celebrate his #1 “One Hell Of An Amen” with co-writers and good friends Brian Davis and Mike Dekle – and gave an emotional speech that not only left the crowd at South visibly moved, but underscored his commitment to people living lives like the one he leads when he’s not touring the country.
For Davis, the event marked his first Country chart-topper. For Mike Dekle, who co-wrote Brantley’s “Country Must Be Country Wide,” his biggest prior hits were with Kenny Rogers in 1983. But even more special, the Brantley-described “underdog” celebrated the lives of the late Army man Jonathan Lootens, Gilbert’s and Lootens’ good friend Josh Greene and friend Cory Potts, who lost his battle to cancer.
“The power of music…none of us can really define it,” Brantley explained to the hushed room. “You can’t harness. You know the words that go in songs are chosen for a reason, and I really believe this song is a God thing. I tell people all the time God blessed me and gave me a platform that’s big– and a lot more spotlight that I need. But with this song, we were able to shine the spotlight on two legacies that deserve it.
“When sacrifices are made, people go to bat and they fight the good fight. Maybe fighting cancer, maybe fighting overseas, maybe fighting demons inside your own chest… When you go and fight the good fight, you may win and you may loose, but it’s all about the fight,” Brantley continued. “You never know when you release a song like this about real people… you just don’t know. Kelly (Potts, Cory’s mother) told me, ‘One of the things I worry about, that I have nightmares about is Cory would have been forgotten. But because you guys released this song, I know he won’t be.’”
Throughout the presentation, which included GOLD certification plaques for “One Hell Of An Amen,” Brantley brought a humility to the event that gave the celebration an air of dignity for those remembered, but also honored the Valory Music Co. and Big Machine Label Group teams who helped the song make its way up the Country radio charts. With his co-writers present, the American Music Awards Favorite Country Album winner reinforced that his songs are written by people from his world, and are drawn from real lives and real people.
Having taken his friend Greene to a show in upstate New York, where the Lootens family lived, he talked of his friend meeting the fallen soldier’s family, of a man struggling with watching his friend die – and sharing the story with his relatives. “I saw a young man look into a mother’s eyes and tell her that her son was not alone when he died, that he held his hand every second of the way. One of the things she’d said was that she was so worried he was alone, and he was able to say, he was not alone. I was there with him every second.”
“I’ve watched Josh struggle with substances, with his mind, with everything imaginable in his life (since coming home from his second tour of duty); you know when you know somebody well enough to know it’s on their heart… (After that meeting) Josh is a new man. Every day, he’s making strides – and making a lot of progress after that. And that’s one more man that your son saved.”
With “Stone Cold Sober” hitting the charts, Brantley continues writing about the world he knows – and connecting with people who understand. It is not glossy, shiny or party hearty, but it’s real. Six #1’s – including Jason’s Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem,” he wouldn’t have it any other way.