Welcome to Feel-Good Friday, a weekly roundup of heartwarming stories, lighthearted videos, and inspiring country news that reminds us all there is still good in the world.
Songwriter Barry Dean unveils new wheelchair technology with LUCI
Barry Dean has penned hits for Jon Pardi (“Heartache Medication”), Little Big Town (“Pontoon”) and Michael Ray (“Think a Little Less”), and now the esteemed songwriter has launched a new company to improve wheelchairs. Inspired by his daughter Katherine, who has been wheelchair-bound for most of her 19 years due to cerebral palsy, Dean has launched LUCI. With technology that helps prevent wheelchairs from tipping, avoids collision, and protects against drop offs, LUCI is the first of its kind.
“It’s dynamically sensing the world,” Dean says of the technology, which works with the top three wheelchair models and was created by engineers in Seattle and Denver. “We want riders to be at the front of the technology. There’s so much more to come. This is the first step and as we move forward, there’s going to be more exciting things with LUCI.”
For the past three-and-a-half years Dean has been working on the idea after co-writer Troy Verges shared that one of his loved ones suffered an injury from the same wheelchair Dean’s daughter had. “We found studies that showed 175,000 emergency room visits a year due to accidents with wheelchairs,” Dean says. Wanting to prevent his daughter future harm, Dean worked with his brother, Jered, to bring the idea and technology to life.
While in the testing phase, the brothers searched Craigslist to find used wheelchairs to crash test the technology and software their team built. Jared and his wife picked up the first chair from an older woman in Colorado who lost her husband, Bruce, following his battle with ALS. The couple initially bought the chair with the hope that Bruce would spend his final days on their porch looking at the mountains. The first time they used it, the wheelchair drove into the wall and hurt his wife’s leg and they never used it again. So moved by the story, the LUCI team decided to name the wheelchair Bruce.
“We shared that story with our engineers so they could get a more three-dimensional understanding of what people are living with,” Dean explains. “We bought another chair. It was a pediatric chair, and that family had stitched Jordan’s name on the chair. From that point on, [we decided] our chairs are going to have names when we’re testing. It gave us a more human center to what we were doing.”
After years of collaborating with clinical professionals and logging over 25,000 hours of user testing, LUCI will be available for purchase this fall. With cloud-based communications and alerts, LUCI works with Hey Google and Amazon Alexa so users can interact with the system by using their voice. The MyLUCI portal is available for both iOS and Android phones, and for desktop. The suggested retail price of the technology is $8,445.
The first technology of its kind, Dean says the goal now is to get the word out and make the LUCI platform available for more wheelchair models. Dean has seen the support firsthand from the country community with artists like Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris, Hillary Scott, Natalie Hemby, Brandy Clark and Mary Steenburgen sharing information on LUCI via social media.
“One of the big problems in the industry is how do we get the word out to people who are living with a disability, or the people who care and love them, who are around it? When someone who has such a large platform to share stories like that, it really helps us reach more people that might find it,” he says.
Blake Shelton announces North America drive-in concert
Shelton has joined the growing number of country artists hosting drive-in concerts. The singer recently partnered with Encore Live for a new drive-in concert series that will have the country star playing across the U.S. and Canada on July 25 with special guests Gwen Stefani and Trace Adkins. While countless concerts and tours have been cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19, Shelton offers much needed light to fans and will no doubt bring his humor and charm to drive-ins everywhere. To see if he’s coming to a drive-in near you, visit encorenights.com.
Charlie Daniels’ memorial service includes a rainbow
The country world lost a major player this week with the passing of Charlie Daniels from a hemorrhagic stroke at the age of 83. During a memorial service in Tennessee which included military honors as well as performances by Trace Adkins and other members of the country community, several mourners posted photos of a rainbow seen over the late singer’s visitation at his hometown of Mt. Juliet. Daniels’ funeral service will be livestreamed today (July 10) via his Facebook and YouTube.
Hailey Whitters puts life in perspective within “Janice at the Hotel Bar” video
Whitters tugs on the heartstrings with the nostalgic new video for her standout single “Janice at the Hotel Bar,” featured on her debut album The Dream released earlier this year. Penned with Lori McKenna (“Girl Crush”), “Janice at the Hotel Bar” shares advice received from an older woman.
“Janice is an 80-something year old woman a friend of mine met a few years ago in a hotel bar,” Whitters says. “As they sat talking, Janice dished countless bits of wisdom and advice about life and getting older. I personally have always struggled with finding the right work/life balance; oftentimes getting so caught up in the next accomplishment or achievement that I forget to notice the life that is happening all around me. This song has become my little prayer and reminder to pay attention and be intentional. I hope it resonates with listeners in that way too.”
Kelleigh Bannen’s dog has a unique morning routine
“The Optimist” singer provided much laughter this week thanks to several adorable videos of her dog, Rye. As it turns out, Rye’s morning routine includes him doing a handstand while peeing. It’s one of the cutest things we’ve seen on social media all week and there’s even a thread of clips to brighten your morning!
Martina McBride shares a Disney movie come to life
On Sunday, McBride shared several images going around social media that included a deer entering a Colorado store and the owner giving him chocolate chip cookies. Thirty minutes later, the deer returned with its whole family looking for more treats. The sweet moment could be the makings of a future Disney movie.