Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Charles Esten, Jamie O’Neal and More Rock Kimberly Williams Paisley’s Dance Party to End ALZ

Event Raises nearly $300,000 for Alzheimer's Association

Written by Deborah Evans Price
Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Charles Esten, Jamie O’Neal and More Rock Kimberly Williams Paisley’s Dance Party to End ALZ
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - NOVEMBER 14: Kelleigh Bannen, Ashley Campbell, Melinda Doolittle, Brad Paisley, Ashley Williams, Darius Rucker, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Charles Esten, Taylor Noelle, Cass Hart, Jamie O’Neal, and Emily West and Matt Lovell pose onstage at the Nashville '80s Dance Party to End ALZ benefiting the Alzheimer's Association at Wildhorse Saloon on November 14, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Alzheimer's Association)

Kelleigh Bannen, Melinda Doolittle, Brad Paisley, Jamie O’Neal and Darius Rucker were among the performers who revived ’80s fashion trends while rocking the Wildhorse Saloon last night (Nov.14) with memorable ’80s hits during the Nashville Dance Party to End ALZ. Bannen, who is Apple Music’s Beats 1 “Today’s Country” radio host, emceed the event, the event, which was hosted by Kimberly Williams-Paisley and her siblings Ashley Williams and Jay Williams.

The event, which benefits the Alzheimer’s Association, also featured performances from Ashley Campbell, Emily West and Charles Esten with his daughter Taylor Noelle and Cass Hart. Last year’s event was sidelined due to the Covid pandemic, and both artists and fans came dressed to celebrate ’80s style and music while dancing for an important cause.

“My mom loved a good party, and we know that she would have loved this,” Williams-Paisley told SLN of the event she launched in honor of her mother, Linda Williams, who died in 2016 after a lengthy battle with dementia. “If you exercise your heart, you exercise your brain so what we’re doing tonight is actually good for brain health and the other thing is my mom really responded to music from her past. She loved ’80s music so a lot of times you can connect with someone who has cognitive issues if you play music from the time when their brain was healthy.”

Williams-Paisley chronicled her mother’s illness in the poignant book Where the Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only to find Her Again. “It’s a really challenging illness. It’s exhausting. It’s draining financially, emotionally, spiritually and there’s no one right way to do it,” Williams Paisley says. “I tell people, ‘Keep doing the best you can. Forgive yourself’ because we felt so much guilt with my mom.  What would she have really wanted? Are we spending enough time? Is she living the best life she can? We were all just trying to navigate it the best we can.”

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – NOVEMBER 14: Ashley Williams and Kimberly Williams-Paisley speak onstage at Nashville ’80s Dance Party to End ALZ benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association at Wildhorse Saloon on November 14, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danielle Del Valle/Getty Images)

Williams-Paisley offers advice to other families challenged by any form of dementia.  “Reach out for help. Don’t try to do it by yourself because there are a lot of resources out there,” she says. “The Alzheimer’s Association has a free caregiver hotline that can connect you with local resources in your area.  We didn’t reach out to them at all really during the hard part with my mom because we didn’t think she wanted us to. We didn’t think we needed the help, but we really could have benefited from this community. We’ve gotten so much from this community since she’s passed.”

Williams-Paisley was thrilled to have her sister Ashley and brother Jay co-hosting the evening with her for the first time. “My mother worked in the non-profit sector her whole professional career. I grew up going to a lot of fund raisers, stuffing a lot of envelopes and going to events like this, so I know my mom would have loved this,” Ashley Williams shares. “She also really loved to dance. She loved to party.  So, I’m so thrilled to be here in her honor.  It’s really, really special.”

Ashley says the Williams siblings have special memories of the ’80s. “There was a lot of dancing in the living room in our pajamas,” says Williams, who is co-starring with Williams-Paisley in two Hallmark movies airing in December— Sister Swap: A Hometown Holiday and Sister Swap: Christmas in the City.  

“My sister was the first one to really open my eyes to the brilliance of the ’80s music and we ended up doing a lot of lip syncing. My sister is an amazing dancer.  I am what I like to call an enthusiastic dancer. I could never even aspire to be like her,” Williams laughs. “She was so much fun to play with when we were younger and our house was a really, really warm and fun place to be.”

The Williams sisters along with brother Jay showed off their dance moves during the event. After taking to the stage to welcome the audience, they turned over emcee duties to Bannen and then hit the dance floor and danced the night away alongside fans. The crowd was ready to party. There was a table of revelers dressed as the new wave band Devo complete with their signature red hats. There were others dressed in flight suits, imitating Tom Cruise in Top Gun, and a lot of crowd members were sporting the big hair and over the top jewelry that were all the rage in the ’80s.

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – NOVEMBER 14: Kelleigh Bannen performs onstage at the Nashville ’80s Dance Party to End ALZ benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association at Wildhorse Saloon on November 14, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danielle Del Valle/Getty Images)

Bannen kicked off the evening’s performances with a spirited cover of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” that quickly got the crowd on the dance floor. “I’m singing Dolly and I clearly don’t have the curves to go along with the song, but we’re making the most of what we’ve got,” Bannen smiled and told SLN backstage before the event. “We just layered on a bunch of pearls and crazy belts.”

The outfit totally worked and Bannen looked stunning. As an emcee, she kept the crowd engaged and performances moving. The event was special to her for very personal reasons. “Both of my grandparents had forms of dementia,” Bannen said.  “Their names were Anita and Arch. My grandfather cared for my grandmother and not that long after she passed, he started to show signs and then my mom cared for my sweet grandfather Arch for 10 years as he lived with dementia.  Nashville has a handful of wonderful memory care facilities, and he was at a facility in Green Hills. It’s just a really, really sweet community of people.  You get to know everybody else’s families.”

Like Bannen, many of the night’s performers have a personal connection to Alzheimer’s, including Campbell, who took the stage next to perform the George Michael hit “Faith.” Her father was the legendary Glen Campbell who succumbed to the disease in 2017 at the age of 81. “It means the world to me to be included in this because I always want to do everything I can to raise awareness and hopefully raise funds to find a cure to stop Alzheimer’s,” she said backstage. “So, it feels great to be included and I love helping out.”

Campbell shared words of advice to families struggling with the challenges of Alzheimer’s. “You don’t have to do it alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and talk about it,” she says. “It’s not taboo. It’s just something you’re going through, and then also if you have someone that you are caring for with Alzheimer’s, try to stay in the present with them as much as possible and not focus on who they were but focus on who they are right now.”

After Campbell’s performance, Esten took the stage with Taylor Noelle and Cass Hart to serve up an energetic performance of the B-52s hit “Love Shack” that had the crowd on its feet while he showed off some impressive dance moves. “I had an amazing ’80s,” Esten smiled when asked backstage what he remembered most about the era. “I graduated high school in ’83 so those first three years were unbelievable. College was a blast. I was in a band in college, so we were playing a lot of those ’80s hits. I did have a ball.  I met my wife in ’86. I went to Hollywood in ’88. I got my first acting work in ’89, so from high school to Hollywood was the 80’s for me with all that great music and everything.”

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – NOVEMBER 14: Darius Rucker and Charles Esten perform onstage during the Nashville ’80s Dance Party to End ALZ benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association at Wildhorse Saloon on November 14, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danielle Del Valle/Getty Images)

West followed Esten’s performance and served up an evocative rendition of the Eurythmics 1983 classic “Sweet Dreams  (Are Made of This).” “It’s my fourth year being here and it’s my honor playing,” West told SLN. “My grandmother had Alzheimer’s so my heart is obviously with this foundation. I also was on ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?’ and my cause was Alzheimer’s. I really want to go on a nursing home tour because I think music is the universal language and it never gets old. Even if you are forgetting who you are and your family, music never gets old.”

The hits just kept on coming during the fast-paced show as American Idol alum Doolittle performed a rollicking cover of the iconic Bob Seger hit “Old Time Rock N Roll.” Doolittle doesn’t have a personal connection to Alzheimer’s but says she came out to support her friend. “I’ve watched Kim go through this with her mom and I’m a caretaker for a friend of mine who is not dealing with Alzheimer’s, but I understand the weight of seeing someone deteriorate in front of you and the exhaustion of it all and the emotion of it all,” she told SLN.  “So as soon as Kim was like, ‘Can you be here?’ I was like, ‘Yes ma’am. Let’s raise some awareness’ because I had no idea how fatal it was.  I was thinking [it was] just a memory issue and that’s all I really understood. This has really opened my eyes and made me want to be a bigger part of finding a cure.”

Like Doolittle, Esten came to support his friend. “My connection is actually Kim Williams-Paisley,” he said of why he chose to participate.  “I’ve been a friend of hers obviously through Nashville [They both starred in the hit TV show] and I read her book, which is an unbelievably beautiful, difficult book, very honest about the journey that her mother and her family took. That just really moved me and when you’re not right in it, when you’re not an immediate family member, I don’t think you get the sense of how difficult it can be. That book really brought that home to me.  So, she’s my connection and she’s why I’m here.”

After Doolittle’s performance, Esten took the stage once again. He had changed outfits and was sporting a blonde wig to perform Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” with Paisley joining him to play guitar on the tune.

O’Neal was next to perform. Rocking a pink and black ensemble with silver fringe, her performance was one of the evening’s highlights as she had the crowd singing along to Journey’s beloved classic “Don’t Stop Believin.’”

O’Neal returned to participate in the event for the fourth time in memory of her grandmother who had battled Alzheimer’s. “Just watching her and seeing what she was going through and then my grandfather losing his partner. They were together for so many years,” she said backstage.  “I would go in to visit her with my grandfather and we ended up having to separate and walk in separately because she was jealous of me.  She’d say, ‘Who is this young chippy?’ because she was from New Zealand and my grandfather was from England.  There are things that you’ve never had to encounter before like my grandmother not knowing me. Yet the sense of humor my grandfather and I would have about some of this was there because my grandmother was always like the cutest, sweetest person you’d ever meet. She was always joking and funny.  I feel like there was a rollercoaster of emotions because every day was a different story.”

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – NOVEMBER 14: Brad Paisley performs onstage at the Nashville ’80s Dance Party to End ALZ benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association at Wildhorse Saloon on November 14, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danielle Del Valle/Getty Images)

As the evening began winding down, Paisley returned to the stage and delivered a blistering performance of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.” Addressing the crowd afterward, he said, “This is my wife’s passion project. We watched her mom go through the stages of this disease. I think it takes things like this to help eradicate it and I’m so proud of her.”

Through her efforts the Dance Party to End ALZ has raised over a million dollars for the Alzheimer’s Association since its inception. “It’s just great that everyone can come out,” Williams-Paisley told SLN. “I’m just so grateful that we are able to have it this year and we didn’t have to cancel it again because we thought about it.”

Paisley’s set continued with an impressive cover of Don Henley’s iconic hit “Boys of Summer” and Dire Straits ‘Walk of Life.” He was then joined by surprise guest Rucker and they performed “Purple Rain.” The evening concluded when all the artists returned to the stage to sing Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” a celebratory end to a great night of music for a worthy cause.