Darius Rucker returned to the historic Ryman Auditorium on Monday night (June 6), for his 13th Annual Darius and Friends benefit concert. Acting as the unofficial kick-off to this year’s CMA Fest, the country superstar was joined by a host of special guests playing to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
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The benefit, which has raised more than $2.5 million to date, was started by Rucker after he personally visited the hospital early on in his solo career. Feeling compelled to help out the hospital’s mission, Rucker grabbed a few country superstars and hit the Nashville stages to help out the cause over a decade ago.
This year’s event kicked off with a series of live auctions. Hosted by radio hosts Taye Hamilton and Wayne D, Rucker gave away free tickets to Brooks and Dunn, a personal meet and greet, a Breedlove Discovery Concertina guitar signed by Rucker himself, a guitar signed by 17 country artists (Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris, Luke Bryan and more) and surprise 2nd-row tickets.
Bids from the extremely generous crowd ranged from $4000 to a whopping $15,000 for the signed guitar. All together the live auctions raised over $30,000 for the organization.
After the bidding was all said and done, the two emcees brought out a St. Jude patient, Addie, who is 5 years in remission from Leukemia. After thanking the audience, she provided a stunning performance herself, belting out the lyrics to “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman.
When Rucker first took the stage in Nashville, he was backed by a first-rate band and a series of nostalgic, homemade videos of boat rides, mid-summer bonfires, and soothing ocean tides.
Throughout his performance, intercut between sets from his special guests he lovingly deemed “ladies’ night,” Rucker played a host of his top hits including “For The First Time,” “Same Beer Different Problem” and “Hold My Hand.” He also played a couple of surprising covers including a horn-assisted crooning rendition of Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” and “Come Fly With Me.”
Yesterday’s show sold out before a majority of the line-up was ever revealed. None of the friends that would be joining the Hootie and the Blowfish frontman were shared before the show began. The billing did not disappoint, featuring a list of high-powered female country stars and promising up-and-comers.
The first special guest to hit the historic stage was Sara Evans. During her three-song set, she expertly ran through her early ’00s hits “Suds in the Bucket” and “A Little Bit Stronger.” In the first of many covers of the night, Evans broke out into a funked-up version of the Bee Gees’ “If I Can’t Have You” to close out her stint.
The second featured performer was rising star, Rachel Wammack. The Alabama native sang two original songs before ending with a revved-up version of Miranda Lambert’s “Little Red Wagon.” With high energy and vocal prowess, she marked herself as one to watch in the country scene.
Also on the billing was Caylee Hammack, Rucker’s frequent tour support act. She began with her debut single “Family Tree” before rolling into her empowering 2020 single “Forged in The Fire.” In the latter offering, she wistfully sang about a house she lost in a fire a few years back. After mentioning that the Ryman “put her up in the Johnny and June Room” the singer closed out her set with a tribute to The Man in Black.
Before she could leave the stage though Rucker joined Hammack on stage for a duet of an unreleased song. The duo perfectly complimented one another as they ran through the tour-honed performance.
Rucker used his fourth set of the night to tell the story behind the Hootie single “Let Her Cry.” Rucker recalled being in his early ’20s and hearing a Bonnie Raitt song in the bar that led to him writing the heartwrenching song. He began playing the number with only an acoustic guitar to back him up before being joined by a violin player making the already poignant song even more stirring.
Country Icon Sheryl Crow followed Rucker, taking the stage “straight from her kid’s baseball game,” though you wouldn’t be able to guess that from her hot pink jacket with matching bedazzled boots.
Crow sang her chart-topping hits like “If It Makes You Happy” and “Every Day is A Winding Road.” For her cover, she picked Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut is the Deepest,” a song she re-recorded in 2003. Rucker joined her onstage for the final number in a seemingly impromptu duet.
Lindsey Ell then took the stage with a wailing guitar solo and a through-and-through rock n’ roll attitude. She expertly picked her way through a couple of original songs, “Right on Time” and “I Don’t Love You.” She ended her night with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”
The 13th annual Darius and Friends benefit night not only garnered more than $30,000 in funds for St. Jude, but the night also acted as a “best of country music” showcase, with each artist holding their own in the star-studded night.
All Photos By Keith Griner/ Courtesy Ebie Media