Tornadoes battered their school and their homes. Their spring break was filled with cleanup and recovery work that has only just begun. But for one night, students at a southern Indiana high school hope to put all that aside to enjoy an evening that one of country music's biggest acts planned just for them.
Henryville, Ind., will share the spotlight with Grammy-winning Lady Antebellum on Wednesday night at the KFC Yum Center in nearby Louisville, Ky., where the trio will stage a "mini-prom" bash for students at Henryville Junior-Senior High School, followed by a benefit for the devastated community.
"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 battered high school landed both events in late March by winning Lady Antebellum's online "Own the Night" contest offering one school a concert at its prom. 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.
Singer Hillary 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.
"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."
Lady Antebellum wasn't able to perform at Henryville's prom in late April due to a conflict with the band's schedule. Instead, it opted for the mini-prom open to the 188 junior and seniors and their dates who attended the school's formal prom, followed by a concert to benefit the town.
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 Charles Kelley said the band hopes to lift the Henryville community's spirits by putting on a special show.
"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 includes an online fund drive that will go to disaster relief, Brown said. Online donations had generated more than $119,000 by Tuesday evening.
Henryville senior Austin Albert, whose father, Troy Albert, is the high school's principal, said the show will be a huge boost to the hard-hit community.
"It's given us something to look forward to — something big for a small-town like we're in, that's pretty cool," he said.
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.