The late Toby Keith‘s kids knew they were in for an emotional night at the 2024 CMT Music Awards where their father was honored on Sunday, April 7.

“It means a lot. It’s our first really public appearance, public outing, and so it’s very bittersweet,” Shelley Covel Rowland, Toby’s eldest child, exclusively told Us Weekly on the CMT Awards red carpet in Austin. “It’s going to be emotional. We’re doing our best to keep the tears in now, make it through this line of cameras.”

Shelley, 44, walked the red carpet with sister Krystal Keith and brother Stelen Keith Covel before Lainey Wilson, Brooks & Dunn, Sammy Hagar and more gathered on stage at the Moody Center to pay tribute to Toby, who died in February at age 62 after battling stomach cancer.

“This is an award show that we came to quite a bit and we’ve always come with him, so this is our first time being here without him, but he’s being honored, so we feel like he’s here,” Krystal, 38, shared. “We’re excited to hear his music, even though he’s not the one singing it. But we’re really honored that Brooks & Dunn and Sammy and Lainey have come to honor him in this way. So we’re really excited.”

Krystal Keith, Shelley Covel Rowland and Stelen Keith Covel
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for CMT

Stelen got to talk to the performers briefly before the performance, but he didn’t focus much on their show. Instead, they just focused on sharing their memories of Toby. “[I got to] talk to them just about what he meant to them and vice versa,” Stelen told Us. “I got to relay the same back, and so we’re really excited to be here for them to see them perform.”

Krystal noted that hearing how their father impacted people has left them blown away in the months since his death.

2024 CMT Awards Red Carpet

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“We knew that he was an incredible artist. We knew he was an incredible songwriter. We knew he had a huge fan base, but what we didn’t — I think what took us by surprise was the outpouring from the community and the industry,” she explained. “People that we’ve known for so many years and people that we have never met, but telling us stories about the impact that he had on them, and I think that speaks volumes to who he was to not just the industry but this, I mean the entire country music family and all the people in this industry.”

Toby Keiths Family Say They Were Doing Our Best to Keep the Tears In at His CMT Awards Tribute

Toby Keith Tribute
Rick Kern/Getty Images for CMT

Retired athlete Roger Clemens said he wanted to honor the family when he took the stage. “I’m going to try and recognize them too … [I’m] just trying to stay upbeat,” Clemens, 76, told Us on the red carpet. “We miss him.”

Toby Keith through the years

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Clemens gave the kids and mom Tricia Lucus, who was married to Toby for nearly 40 years, a shout-out as the tribute concluded. “Thanks for sharing your dad with all of us,” Clemens said as he held back tears. “Thank you. Tricia, we love you. Thank you for sharing your husband with the world Tricia, thank you.”


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