Brad Paisley, Chris Young, Darius Rucker and Friends Bring Back the 80s to Fight Alz

Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley brought their friends together for a roaring 80s party to help the fight against Alzheimer's.

Brad Paisley, Chris Young, Darius Rucker and Friends Bring Back the 80s to Fight Alz
Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley; Photo via Instagram

Big hair, stonewashed jeans, headbands, brick-like cell phones and other trends that defined the 80s made a comeback last night in Nashville at the second annual Dance Party to End Alz. Brad Paisley, Chris Young, Lindsay Ell, High Valley, Jay Allen, Charles Esten, Jamie O’Neal, Chase Bryant, Ashley Campbell and surprise guest Darius Rucker joined hostess Kimberly Williams-Paisley and acclaimed radio personality Blair Garner for a fun-filled night of 80s music and fashion at the Wildhorse Saloon. Fans who already arrived in Nashville for CMA Music Fest got an early start on their week full of fun and helped raise money to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.

“I really had a good time getting ready for tonight,” said Williams Paisley, who looked adorable in a short, sassy leopard print dress with a hot pink belt, tights and headband. The actress/author launched the event last year with a 70s themed party and was excited about incorporating the 80s theme this year, an idea she said came from her husband. “We’re really having fun with this theme. I think we may stick with this one for a while.”

“It’s Michael Jackson meets Randy Owen,” Brad Paisley said backstage of his look that combined a black and red leather jacket, jeans, sunglasses, snakeskin boots and a head band.

Paisley was happy to dress up and help his wife support a cause that is close to her heart. “She’s very committed to this cause. This is an incredible opportunity for her to honor her mom,” he says. “It really is about personal experience. It’s about what happened to her mother and the thing we went through for a decade with her when she got this so early in her life. We lost her after a 10-year battle. She got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 60.”

Williams Paisley wrote a book chronicling their family’s experiences titled Where The Light Gets In. “I lost my mom to Alzheimer’s a year and a half ago and that was obviously very emotional,” she said, “but I want tonight to mostly focus on people coming together with hope and with joy and community to work together because we all really need to work together to fight this disease. It’s verging on an epidemic and it’s something that involves multi-generations of families. There’s an economic crises developing because of the 24/7 care giving needs of patients. People are having to quit their jobs so they can care for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s. It’s a very complicated problem. It’s the only killer in the United States in the top 10 with no treatment and no cure, but tonight we’re focusing on everyone coming together and working together to try to find a cure. All the money, 100% of the money, is going to research through the Alzheimer’s Association so I’m really excited about it.”

Her enthusiasm was contagious as stars gathered backstage before the event and compared outfits and their favorite 80s trends. Chris Young admits his tailor and wardrobe person helped him put together his 80s look, which also included one of the big brick-like cell phones from that era. “He pulled a whole bunch of stuff and the first thing I looked at was this jacket,” he says of the blue, purple and green vinyl jacket he was sporting. “I said, ‘I had almost that exact same jacket when I was four. I have to wear that!’”

The cause is close to Young, who lost his grandmother to dementia. “She didn’t recognize any of us and she time-skipped. She’d say, ‘I can’t wait for your grandfather to get back,’ who we never knew,” Young told Sounds Like Nashville backstage before the show. “It was really hard to watch someone pass away where you can’t tell them goodbye and they know it’s you. There’s so many similarities between that and what happens with Alzheimer’s. It’s just a very debilitating disease and it’s very sad, not only for the person but for the family and the friends, and everybody goes through it all at once. Anything I can do to be a part of fixing that and curing that, especially doing something like this, it’s a real positive night and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a celebration. It’s remembering a time to combat something that causes you to lose the ability to do that. I think it’s absolutely perfect.”

For his 80s performance, Young chose the Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me.” “I just love that song! I grew up in a skating rink,” he grins. “My mom and dad ran a skating rink when I was a kid so on top of all the country music I grew up with, I heard ‘P.Y.T’ [by Michael Jackson], the Gap Band and lots of 80s music. I’ve never sung it before, other than in the car or the shower, but it will be fun.”

Ell got in the spirit of the evening by doing a little research on 80s style. “I’ve been Googling 80s hair and 80s make up. Its been fun,” says the newcomer who was born in 1989. “I caught the last bit of the last year.”

“I had help from Google. I Googled 80s bands,” said High Valley’s Brad Rempel of how he and brother Curtis came up with their look for the evening.

Curtis added, “My wife helped me with the headband. It’s not really something I’ve ever done before. Most of this I’ve not done before,” he said laughing about the short shorts and t-shirt he was wearing. “This is going to be fun. We’re going to do ‘Everybody Have Fun Tonight’ by Wang Chung. I was born in 1990 so I don’t naturally know a bunch of 80s stuff, but we tried to learn this song.”

Everybody have fun tonight. #80s

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Ell was happy to be donating her time to such a worthy cause. “It’s scary how quickly Alzheimer’s is growing and spreading as a disease. It’s scary that most people either know someone in their family or have a close friend affected by Alzheimer’s. I’m happy that we’re here to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association tonight. Brad and Kimberly have become really close to my heart over the past year and a half. I’ve been out on the road with Brad on the Weekend Warrior Tour so anything I can do to help them and their family, I will do in a heartbeat.”

The night was filled with memorable performances. Sporting a sleeveless black leather ensemble and a pony tail, mimicking Bono’s look in U2’s iconic “With or Without You” video, Esten delivered a riveting performance of the U2 classic and his spot on impression of Bono had the audience cheering. Wearing a ripped sweatshirt like Jennifer Beals’ character Alex in the movie, O’Neal had the crowd on its feet during her stunning performance of the Flashdance theme “What a Feeling.” Afterwards, Garner led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to O’Neal who has a June 3 birthday.

Emily West served up a lively cover of the Whitney Houston hit “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” while the late Glen Campbell’s daughter Ashley delivered a spirited cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” “I’m so proud of her,” Ashley’s mother Kim Campbell said with a big smile.

Having lost her husband Glen last August after a battle with Alzheimer’s, the cause is one that is passionate about. “The Alzheimer’s Association has been such an important part of our lives. They helped us every step of the way and encouraged us in so many ways,” she said. “And I love Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Brad and wanted to support them and their efforts. It’s such an important cause. Everywhere I travel, I rarely meet anyone who hasn’t been touched by Alzheimer’s. It touches so many families and it’s heartbreaking. I hope one day we do find a cure. That’s why we’re all here.”

Another participant who has been deeply affected by Alzheimer’s is newcomer Jay Allen. “This cause is my whole life,” Allen told the crowd and shared that his 53-year-old mother is battling the disease and can no longer recognize her loved ones. He spoke of the power of music and shared with the audience how he had taken his mother to the Sutler in Nashville to hear music and when they danced, she recognized him for the first time in a long time. He then sang a song he wrote for her titled “Blank Stares,” and there was hardly a dry eye in the place. It was such a moving performance.

Allen was followed by Radio Romance and the band served up the only country 80s hit of the night when they performed an energetic version of Alabama’s “Mountain Music.” Ell sang and played guitar with unbridled energy as she ripped into Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” Chase Bryant sang Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” and Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” while surprise guest Darius Rucker treated the crowd to Prince’s “Purple Rain” and joined Paisley for Dire Straits “Money for Nothing.”

As the evening wound down, Paisley delivered a scorching rendition of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” and covered Don Henley’s classic “Boys of Summer.” The finale saw everyone busting out their dance moves for an all-star rendition of Jackson’s “Thriller” with Esten even providing the spooky spoken word segment originated by horror actor Vincent Price.

It was a night of great music for a great cause that is near to so many of the participants. “Alzheimer’s is close to my heart. I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s,” said O’Neal. “It’s such a great charity and it’s so important to spread awareness and spread the word. This is so devastating to so many people.”