Thomas Rhett, Jon Pardi Surprise Fans at Georgia on My Mind Benefit Concert

We may have been inside Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, but it was all about Georgia music on Tuesday (May 16) for the 4th annual Georgia on My Mind Concert in benefit of the Georgia Music Foundation, which supports music programs and preservation across the state. The crowd was full of Georgia natives who were thrilled to be there, demonstrated by the fact that many of them drove all the way from the Peach State. The special event was hosted by the Peach Pickers, comprised of three of Nashville’s most popular songwriters Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip.

Lauren Alaina; Photo credit: Rick Diamond for Getty Images

Lauren Alaina; Photo credit: Rick Diamond for Getty Images

The lineup was a mix of new and legendary, with every act from Lauren Alaina to T. Graham Brown taking the stage for the worthy cause – with a few surprises mixed in. Brown was celebrating the 31st anniversary of “I Tell It Like It Used to Be,” with his voice sounding just as smooth as it did in 1985. Davidson called her a “great friend to the Georgia Music Foundation” as he welcomed Lauren Alaina to the stage, which she graced with her first No. 1 hit, “Road Less Traveled,” demonstrating her sassy side on the upbeat tune. Michael Ray was a solid follow up act, who Hayslip dubbed “one of the nicest and most genuine guys I know,” treating the audience to a performance of his own No. 1, “Think a Little Less,” sounding just as strong as always.

Drivin’ N Cryin’ were a big hit amongst the Georgia crowd, as the Atlanta-based band captivated fans with “Straight to Hell” after Otis Redding III and his brother Dexter electrified the stage singing their father Otis Redding’s hits “Hard to Handle” and “Try a Little Tenderness.”

Kip Moore; Photo credit: Rick Diamond for Getty Images

Kip Moore; Photo credit: Rick Diamond for Getty Images

Kip Moore made his Georgia on My Mind debut, much to the delight of the crowd. The rugged country singer added an air of poignancy to a night filled mostly with upbeat songs as he sat perched on a single stool with multiple spotlights shining only on him as the background went dark to perform a stripped down version of one of his fan favorites, “That Was Us,” offering a passionate vocal delivery that earned him one of the longest ovations of the night.

Moore’s standout performance was followed by equally beloved artist, Chris Janson, who literally shook with excitement as he took the mic to rock the stage with “Buy Me a Boat,” which had the crowd happily singing along. He even threw in the chorus of his new summer single, “Fix a Drink,” before enthusiastically jamming on harmonica. Meanwhile, Billy Currington took the atmosphere down a notch with his fitting and beautiful delivery of the show’s title track by Ray Charles.

But a dose of thrill was thrown into the mix when two surprise guests were brought out to the stage. First up was Jon Pardi, whose presence sent the crowd into a frenzy as he sang his No. 1 single, “Dirt on My Boots.” The excitement was only elevated when Rhett Akins brought out another surprise performer, which the crowd knew before his name was even announced. The songwriter started talking about coaching him as a child and told a hilarious story of his birth and how his right arm was sticking out as he held out announcing the name. “He’s either gonna throw a football or play a guitar,” Akins said. Their suspicions were confirmed when son, and a new father, Thomas Rhett came on to the stage. The budding superstar kicked off his set with “Star of the Show,” followed by his CMA and ACM Award winning hit, “Die a Happy Man,” allowing him to show off his smooth voice while fans validated the No. 1 track by singing along just as prominently as Rhett himself.

Jameson Brand Ambassador Gary Feeney presents Dallas Davidson, Rhett Akins, and Ben Hayslip with a check onstage during the 4th Annual Georgia On My Mind; Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Georgia Music Foundation

Jameson Brand Ambassador Gary Feeney presents Dallas Davidson, Rhett Akins, and Ben Hayslip with a check onstage during the 4th Annual Georgia On My Mind; Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Georgia Music Foundation

The Peach Pickers returned to the stage after the thrilling surprises to close the night out right with a series of hit songs they’ve written including Jake Owen’s “Anywhere With You,” a 90s country throwback with Akins’ own “That Ain’t My Truck” and Blake Shelton’s redneck anthem, “Boys ‘Round Here,” which had Akins prompting the entire Ryman Auditorium to stand up and sing along, serving as the perfect end to an already wonderful evening.