McGraw Falls Ill at Swampstock

RAYVILLE, La. — An estimated 20,000 fans flooded this small town in northeast Louisiana Sunday night (Sept. 14) to see Tim McGraw at his annual Swampstock benefit concert. And they did — for a little while.

Four songs into his headlining set, McGraw walked off the stage without a word and disappeared under the drum riser. At first, his longtime touring band, the Dancehall Doctors, continued to play without him. Then McGraw’s wife, Faith Hill, bounded onto the stage without any introduction or fanfare and belted out “The Way You Love Me” and a few of her other hits.

Then came the bad news.

“I hate to be the one to tell you this, but my husband is really sick,” Hill told the crowd. “This afternoon he wasn’t feeling well, but he came out anyway because he knows you guys waited all day. I know you’re disappointed, and I’m really, really sorry.”

The official word from the McGraw camp is that the singer experienced “a severe case of dehydration.” A doctor on site reportedly treated McGraw backstage on his tour bus. Earlier in the day, McGraw had joined Hill and other celebrities, including Chris Cagle, Buddy Jewell, the Warren Brothers and actor Rick Schroder, in a softball game under a blazing Louisiana sun.

After the announcement, Hill kept the show going with her mega hit “Breathe” and tried to make the best of it. The rest of the night turned into something similar to one of McGraw’s Bread and Water club shows where everyone jams and just about anything goes. Opening acts Jewell and the Warren Brothers returned to the stage to collaborate on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Southern rock classic, “Sweet Home Alabama.” And country rocker Cagle played the rest of the set, opening with McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It” and playing his own current hit, “Chicks Dig It,” for a second time.

Even though McGraw did not return to the stage, the majority of the massive crowd stayed for the rest of the show. The concert ended just after 10 p.m., as scheduled. As fans streamed across the field to their cars, most were congenial about the situation.

“I think it was handled well,” fan Scott Blackwood said. “I really appreciated the fact that the other entertainers came back and performed for us.”

“We understand that everyone gets sick,” fan Michelle Vaughn said. “We were just glad to see Tim as much as we could.“

McGraw’s illness was the only dark spot on what had been up until that point a near perfect day. The storm clouds that had hung over the Rayville area for the days leading up to the show disappeared just in time to leave a blue sky for Sunday’s softball game at the Tim McGraw Sports Complex. Event organizer Angie Wisenor said this year’s turnout was the best ever, easily tripling the size of the first Swampstock in 1994.

“Tim and Swampstock have been a blessing to us,” Wisenor said. “We started off here at the complex with three [ball] fields and now we have seven fields. We pretty much have a field for each age group to play on.”

The three newest fields are named after McGraw’s and Hill’s three daughters — Gracie, Maggie and Audrey. Swampstock money has also supported the Steve Colvin Memorial Scholarship fund, named in honor of McGraw’s childhood friend. Two $10,000 scholarships are awarded each year to outstanding seniors at Rayville High School. Seven have been awarded so far. Four of the recipients have already graduated from college.

“He is one generous soul,” Wisenor said. “Tim really doesn’t like the recognition, but we have to give it to him because it is just awesome what he has done.”

Six of the scholarship recipients were introduced at the softball game where they had their photos taken on the field with McGraw and Hill. After the game, McGraw told CMT News that he was proud of what the Swampstock benefits have accomplished for his hometown.

“I was lucky enough to grow up in a place where people are real people, and they take care of each other and each other’s kids,” McGraw said. “I’m proud. I’m proud of the people here who do all the work. We just show up once a year and play a little baseball, but the people who work year-round do all the work. We just show up and have fun.”