Twenty years of tears, heroic stories and unfading memories will soon be reflected upon as musicians perform in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, amid an unassuming field in Pennsylvania and overlooking D.C.’s night skyline.
Stirring melodic memorials from Kevin and Michael Bacon of the Bacon Brothers, Carly Pearce and Jimmie Allen will find fellow Americans together on Sept. 11 during a special two-hour Saturday broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry.
The moments will come as part of a full day of patriotic and memorial programming Circle TV commissioned to remember those lost, a day that will also bring special programming featuring stories from some of the heroes who rushed into duty in the aftermath of the attacks as well as examination of the tragedy’s relationship with music.
According to Circle TV and the Bacon Brothers, the performance at One World Trade Center marks the first time musicians have been allowed to serenade the solemn monument in an honor neither brother takes lightly for personal reasons.
Kevin and Michael Bacon
recall Sept. 11, 2001
Kevin and Michael Bacon were living in New York on that fateful day and were in the middle of an otherwise uneventful radio interview that had to be cut short when the first plane crashed into the tower, stealing the innocence of a generation.
“My first thing was to get my kids,” singer and actor Kevin Bacon remembered. “Our babysitter got my son, and I went straight over to the East Side where my daughter was going to school. I think I was maybe one of the first parents there.”
He found his daughter safe but confused.
“It was very ... the look on her face for why I was there early ... was just,” he said before pausing to gather his emotions. “You just don’t forget it, you know?”
His brother Michael vividly recalls the hours that followed their interview that day.
“It was Tuesday morning, beautiful, at this time was about 9 o’clock,” he said. “We (he and his wife) went out and voted. I have no idea why we did that. Of course the voting on that Tuesday was completely thrown out. We look back and say what were we thinking?
“Then we walked downtown,” he continued. “And we saw people coming up in just a state of panic with dust all over them.”
Even having witnessed the surreal scene, for Michael Bacon, the role the day would play in his life had not yet fully become apparent.
“Three or four days later, I came back to my apartment and there was a yellow ribbon on the front door in my apartment building. Immediately I knew that it was for firefighter Kevin Bracken, who was in Engine Company 40 right on Amsterdam Avenue, maybe a two-minute walk from us,” he said. “The second I saw that, I knew that was him.
“He had a wife and a baby. It almost sounds trite to say about people who die young, but he was just a great guy, never stopped smiling, really friendly. In a building with hundreds of apartments, he just shone. I got to know him, and I was very proud of that.”
By the end of the extensive search for survivors and victims, Michael Bacon had lost three more friends from his hockey team.
“That was tough,” he said. “It’s almost really tough to even talk about it now.”
A year later, Kevin Bacon wrote the song “Unhappy Birthday” with all the perspective of someone who’d lived through the terrible day, someone who, four days after the attack, felt drawn to ground zero, wondering what he could do to help.
“It was an unbelievable landscape. You can’t describe it,” he said. “...It became clear to me it was not a place I needed to be.”
Two decades later, he and his brother were needed by Circle TV, to return to that place and make history.
“It was a great honor to be asked to play for this event down at the site. The site is just amazing. Those fountains with the water disappearing into the earth. It’s just super powerful,” Michael Bacon said. “I’m really honored to be involved in this.”
Kevin Bacon spoke on the experience of performing “Unhappy Birthday.”
“If you sing songs for a really long time, sometimes you lose track of what the emotional genesis of the song was. It becomes first verse, second verse, ‘Am I playing in tune?’ ‘What are the changes?’ “ he said. “I always find that if you can get back in touch with what the song is about, it helps the performance.
“In this case ... there was no problem kind of getting back to it,” he continued. “We were right there. It was good to play it. Cathartic.”
Executive Producer Bret Wolcott was on-site as well.
“It was a hot New York day and I had goose pimples because I know what happened there, and I know that there’s 2,600 souls who lost their lives in an instant right there where we were,” Wolcott said. “...This job was laying a musical wreath at the site.”
Jimmie Allen learns from tragedy
When the towers fell, country artist Jimmie Allen was just a high school freshman from a small Delaware town who found the unthinkable events took awhile to sink in as reality.
But during his performance of “Pray,” with the lights of Washington, D.C., glowing in the background, what it came to mean to him as he grew older came flooding back.
“Man, I was just thinking about the families because I can’t imagine what they felt like on what they thought was a normal day. They didn’t know when they told that person goodbye that was the last time they would see them,” Allen said. “We’ve all lost someone. That’s why I chose the song I did because I feel like there’s points in life we all need help getting through that moment. ... I hope they find some sort of comfort in the performances.”
As someone who became a man and built a life in the post-9/11 world, Allen reflected on what the day taught him.
“Now it’s just realizing life is short. Every single day we step out into the world there’s no guarantee that we come home,” Allen said. “So hold your loved ones tighter, make sure you tell everybody you love them, be good to people, and live each day like it’s your last.
“Hopefully, through the love we show each other, it will spread throughout the world and we won’t have to worry about things like this.”
24 hours of remembrance,
storytelling and memorializing
Circle TV’s day of remembrance will begin at 7 a.m. Sept. 11 with three hours of Bill Cody’s “Coffee, Country & Cody,” when he’ll hear from some of the heroes who courageously rushed toward danger that day alongside strong souls who lived its horror.
The goal will be sharing the burden.
“That’s sort of the idea,” said Circle TV general manager Drew Reifenberger. “We had this shared experience 20 years ago. Let’s come back together and be there for each other, find comfort and healing through the music again, but also just through the camaraderie of a place to go.”
Later on, the special “Songs From September: The Music that Healed a Nation” gets started at 5 p.m. with host Bobby Bones.
Lastly, the special two-hour edition of the Grand Ole Opry, “Opry Remembers 9/11,” featuring performances from the crash sites, will get underway at 7 p.m. (Carly Pearce performed at the third site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed into a field.)
That Opry broadcast will also feature more traditional performances by Little Big Town, Trisha Yearwood, Billy Ray Cyrus, Trace Adkins, Lauren Alaina, Vince Gill and more.