Henryville Junior-Senior High School students won an online contest to bring in the top-selling act, which also is playing a full benefit concert later Wednesday at the KFC Yum Center in nearby Louisville, Ky.
At a prom-style party in Louisville’s downtown arena overlooking the Ohio River, the band surprised the students by playing for them in a private show. Teens in casual clothes cheered and screamed under a disco ball hung over the dance floor.
“Each and every one of you have inspired us, and we’re so honored to be here, I know it’s your second prom technically,” said singer Hillary Scott. The band couldn’t play at the high school’s actual prom last month because of a scheduling conflict.
Scott and another band member, Charles Kelley, selected two students to dance with during the short acoustic show.
Henryville junior Kelsey Guernsey said she couldn’t believe how close she was to the band.
Her home, like many of the students’ houses, was damaged in the March 2 tornado that destroyed the school. She said private concert with the band was a high point of an otherwise tragic year.
“It seemed kind of unbelievable because Henryville is so small and we really don’t ever get anything really big like this,” she said.
Ty Griffin, a senior who filmed a video entry for Lady Antebellum’s prom contest, said he was surprised by the private appearance.
“When they came out I was ecstatic,” said Griffin. “I saw everybody crowd around the stage so I just ran up there.”
Schools as far away as northern Wisconsin submitted YouTube videos on behalf of Henryville, an unincorporated town hit by two tornadoes – one packing 175 mph winds – on a day when storms killed 13 people in Indiana and 24 in Kentucky.
Scott, who came up with the idea for the band to play at a prom, toured Henryville earlier Wednesday.
“It was heartbreaking in a lot of ways,” she said at a news conference before the show. “Where there’s so much sadness and devastation there’s hope being built in its place, so that was really inspiring to see.”
Scott said the band was moved by what she called the “selfless” entries from other schools, including rival Silver Creek High School in nearby Sellersburg, Ind., which actually was the band’s pick to win the contest but students there backed the Henryville bid.
“That was just such, honestly, an encouraging thing to think that those high schoolers, that generation, they’re that helpless, they want to help each other that much,” she said. “It was definitely an easy decision.”
Each of Henryville’s juniors and seniors received five tickets for floor seating at the show. The juniors and seniors at Silver Creek, the rival Clark County school that nominated Henryville, each received one ticket, said Tahnee Brown of concert promoter National Shows 2.
Lady A’s Kelley said the band hoped to lift the Henryville community’s spirits.
“We want to just go there and hopefully bring a little joy, meet them, shake their hands, encourage them to try to get through it as best as they can,” the singer said.
The sold-out benefit is accompanied by an online drive that’s one of several disaster relief efforts for Henryville. That online drive had generated more than $119,000 by Wednesday morning, but concert organizers say that reflects only a portion of the money that’s been collected.
“With everything’s that’s happened – the tornado and the destruction – now we’ll have something else to remember for the rest of our lives,” said Henryville junior class vice president Kaitlyn Maloney, 17, who rode out the March 2 storm with her parents in the basement of their Henryville home. “This will give us something to remember that’s happy.”
The show also could be a sort of homecoming for many town residents, said Monroe Township Trustee Allen Bottorff, a lifelong Henryville resident whose home was damaged in the storms and lost a second one he and his wife were remodeling. He planned to attend the show with his family, including his 18-year-old twins, son Tanner and daughter Drew.
“It’s going to be quite a bit of a reunion for a lot of people who have been scattered about,” Bottorff said.