The events of Sept. 11, 2001 changed just about everything in America, including the kind of music we wanted to hear. As the country struggled to understand the tragedy of that day, we were searching for songs to bring healing, unity and comfort.
It turns out Brooks & Dunn had the perfect song, and it just happened to be climbing the country chart on Sept. 11.
If you’ve seen Brooks & Dunn perform “Only in America,” you probably assumed they wrote it in response to the 9/11 attacks. The first line alone, “Sun’s coming up over New York City,” seems to speak directly to those events.
That’s not the case, though.
Ronnie tells Rare Country, “It just fell in place. It was working its way into the top 10 when 9/11 occurred. It just breathed a whole different life and new meaning into what it was saying. It was so unbelievably relevant to what was going on or what had happened. The reaction afterward from the crowds was very emotional. Stunning. Overpowering.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, Brooks & Dunn wondered whether they should postpone their shows or take on a more somber tone onstage.
“We were all wondering if we should perform,” Kix Brooks tells us. “Baseball teams were wondering should we play? The whole country was wondering, ‘Should we shut down out of respect, or should we continue out of respect to let the assholes know we don’t change our lives ’cause you do something shitty.'”
They decided to continue on with their sold-out concert in Pennsylvania, which wasn’t very far from the site where United 93 crashed on 9/11. Before they opened the show with ‘Only in America,’ Ronnie read a letter to the crowd from backstage while the stage was still empty.
Kix recalls, “I’ll never forget. We walked onstage after that, and they fired that song up, and the chants from that crowd of ‘U.S.A.’ were louder than our band was. We killed the band before we even started singing, and we all just sat down and let that crowd eat for awhile. They just went crazy. I think they would still be chanting it if we hadn’t told the band, ‘Let’s freaking go.’ It was one of the most emotional, great nights.”
One of Brooks & Dunn’s crew guys suggested they have Marines join them onstage for “Only in America.”
“We came offstage that night, and one of our main carpenters was an ex-Marine,” Kix explains, “He said, ‘Guys, if you want to get some Marines out here for that song…’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ In every city, he’d call the local branch and we’ve always done it and we always will.”
You can see the military personnel join Brooks & Dunn in this 2003 performance of “Only in America” from that year’s Farm Aid concert.
The duo continues to welcome troops onstage every night during their ongoing residency with Reba McEntire at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.