Spirits could not have been higher at the 8th annual Darius Rucker and Friends concert on Monday (June 5) in benefit of St. Jude’s Research Hospital. Taking place at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium for the first time, fans filled the historic venue not just with positive energy, but love, for each artist that took the stage.
Rucker immediately brought the crowd to its feet when he opened the show with his hit “Alright,” setting an upbeat tone that would carry on throughout the night. One of the biggest thrills of the evening came when Rucker announced a surprise guest so exciting he said “I’m about to go to the bathroom in my pants” before bringing out superstar duo Brooks & Dunn, causing the energy inside the Ryman to erupt. The audience instantly lept to standing position, singing every word to “Red Dirt Road,” with Rucker also taking the mic to harmonize. Brooks let us know what was coming next by kicking off “Boot, Scoot and Boogie” with a harmonica solo while Dunn got the crowd pumped by stomping and clapping along with him, so much so that one could feel the Ryman floor shake underneath.
At one point during the thrilling number, Brooks brought a young girl from the audience onstage to swing dance with him as they electrified the crowd with their signature hit, with Dunn ending the performance with a Nashville Predators towel wave, which was appropriate seeing as they left the game across the street at Bridgestone Arena to come and support Rucker and St. Jude.
But the real star of the night was Rucker himself, whose charisma sent fans into a frenzy each time he took the stage for hits like “This,” “Homegrown Honey,” latest single “If I Told You,” and even debuted a new song off his upcoming album. “I still can’t get over the fact that Brooks and Dunn just played,” he gushed. Ears are probably still ring from the thunderous sound of cheers when Rucker started in on his Hootie and the Blowfish classic, “I Only Want to Be With You,” adding a hint of 90s nostalgia to the evening.
In addition to the man of the hour, several other notable acts took the stage, with each getting an equally warm reception. Michael Ray was a stand out of the night when he threw in some traditional country with a stellar rendition of Randy Travis’ “Forever and Ever Amen” with Rucker standing by his side. Ray and Rucker’s voices shone on the track, but they were no match for the audience, who enthusiastically sang back every word of the country classic. Dan + Shay also entertained the crowd with their own hits “How Not To” and “From the Ground Up,” with the trailblazing newcomers clearly reveling in the support when the audience had no hesitation singing along to both tracks. Fans went just as crazy for Luke Combs, who’s performance of “Hurricane” was met with excited cheers.
The evening came to a truly stellar close when Rucker brought out Ray, Combs and John Oates for a spirited finale of “Wagon Wheel,” which made the Ryman feel like the church revival it once was as everyone stood in unison, swaying and singing along. Rucker brought the show to the perfect ending when he stopped the music and let the audience take over, singing the chorus as passionately as they could.
“Just knowing that we’re doing good keeps me involved,” Rucker told Sounds Like Nashville before the show about his involvement with St. Jude. “We’re raising real money and helping the hospital exist everyday. I’m here just to do my little part and my little part has been a lot of fun.”
“Darius is a great guy, he’s got a big heart, he’s got great music,” Oates says about his friend. Like Rucker, the rocker has been involved with St. Jude for many years, saying that touring the hospital leaves a resounding impact. “Once you do that, you realize how important an organization St. Jude’s is and what a wonderful job they do for families and children. So if I can give back in a small way of course I want to be a part of it and then to play the Ryman and get to hang out with Darius, it’s a pretty great night.”
Ray was equally as eager to participate, saying that supporting Rucker, St. Jude and performing at the Ryman was all he needed to commit. “We’re all here for country music and St. Jude and to help these kids and help these families and raise as much money as possible and break away from all the dividedness outside these walls and just kind of focus on the reality of things,” Ray says humbly about the importance of the event.
While the music took center stage, the heart of the event was not lost on benevolent guests, who helped raise thousands of dollars for St. Jude before the show had even begun, proving that the real stars are the children and families St. Jude helps every day.