Eric Church, Lynyrd Skynyrd Surprise Crowd at Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam

All-Star Cast Featured Ted Nugent, Jamey Johnson, Alabama and Many Others

If, as he vows, “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” Charlie Daniels got a big jump on it Wednesday night (Aug. 12) before a house filled with howling, singing-along fans and a throng of guest artists who dropped in at Bridgestone Arena for his 40th anniversary Volunteer Jam.

Perhaps the evening of hits and Dixie-heart-lifters from the likes of Alabama, the Oak Ridge Boys, Wynonna and guest performances by the likes of Eric Church, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jamey Johnson was best summed up by its final moments as the midnight hour signaled it was time for the lights to rise and the crowd to leave after the five-hour show which was preceded by a few hours of music out in the arena’s plaza.

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“We love y’all. Thank you for coming,” said the host, wearing his trademark white cowboy hat as he as he exited the stage where the celebration of Dixie-fueled conservatism had the crowd on its feet for much of the night.

It was fitting perhaps that when Daniels exited — the last man to leave the stage save for the techs who were spooling up wires and the like — that the loudspeaker system in the Bridgestone blasted out “The Magnificent Seven Theme,” a melody better known in pop culture as the soundtrack of Marlboro cigarettes commercials a few decades ago.

Wednesday’s show was big, sprawling and sometimes even magnificent. “The Marlboro Man” music — playing as fans scrambled up the aisles and into the midnight air of buskers and hustlers on Lower Broadway — perhaps was not intended as such, but it was a tribute to a night when political correctness was boot-stomped to the honky-tonk curb when Daniels rallied his troops inside the Bridgestone.

Nothing wrong with that, either, as the money raised from the night’s five-hour musical celebration went to a variety of causes to help post-9/11 veterans through the Journey Home Project.

Despite all the star-power, the centerpiece of the jam was Daniels, who took the stage a bit before 9 p.m. and played more than an hour of mostly classic hits by the CDB which got down and lively.

Perhaps a highlight of the set, in true Jam tradition, was the participation of guest performers, like Natalie Stovall, whose white fiddle was more than a match to that of the host in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

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“She’s too pretty to be a fiddle player,” said Daniels, of the blonde leader of Natalie Stovall & the Drive.

A quirky, perhaps intentional, part of that Daniels’ set had singer guest singer Billy Dean stepping to the center-stage microphone to perform “Long Haired Country Boy” while Daniels sat on a stool and played accompaniment.

Perhaps it was just that it was Dean’s favorite CDB song. Or perhaps it was that Daniels, who was in fine voice and buoyant spirit, did not care to sing what many regard as his legacy song, perhaps because the “stoned in the morning, drunk in the afternoon” lifestyle supported by the main character in that song is no longer espoused by the big man himself.

But Daniels was of strong voice and fiddle when he snarled out Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” from the CDB’s Off the Grid: Doin’ It Dylan album.

Of course, the spirit of the jam is the participation of Daniels friends from all types of music, although this one heavily leaned to country and Southern rock.

And that meant that in addition to the multitude of stars who already were a part of the program, others dropped in, just to pick or sing, in the spirit of the jams of old.

Eric Church, for example, dropped in to sing — with Daniels — “In America,” a patriotic tale that, among other things, tells the Russians to go to hell.

The fact is that Daniels never has been afraid to mix it up, leaping from songs about partying and swamps to politics to religion.

He swept up the audience in his enthralling version of “How Great Thou Art,” which even had some of the swaying crowd holding their arms straight out from their sides.

But moments after praising God in perhaps the night’s highlight performance, the host said “Were going to do our most politically incorrect song right now.”

“Some people would ban it. Dixie is in my heart. … If they don’t like it, turn your damn radio off,” Daniels said, cheerfully as he launched into “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” a CDB staple with guest Lee Roy Parnell stepping up to contribute a long and mean slide guitar accompaniment.

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The hoots and hollers from the crowd, both during the performances and then during the announcement that the 41st Jam would return next year to Bridgestone, only this time on a more party-friendly Saturday night, was proof that he had found plenty of kindred spirits, like the heavy fellow in front of this writer who stood up and when it was announced that Skynyrd was going to end the night and hollered “Free Bird!”

That’s a sentiment at concerts throughout the South when restless audiences holler out — even if Skynyrd isn’t in the house – that they want to hear their favorite song.

But instead of the more-introspective (at least as far as Skynyrd goes) song, the boys, now in their second incarnation after many of the original members died in a 1977 plane crash, finished the night with “Sweet Home Alabama,” with the crowd piping in some of the more familiar lines.

While there were no rebel flags waved or politics preached in general, there was one ultra-conservative moment when guitar-wailing Ted Nugent did his own take on Woodstock Generation casualty Jimi Hendrix’s classic version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which echoed off the rafters.

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Nugent, though, had to add his own thoughts, thanking the military in the audience for serving our nation and then apologizing to veterans for how they’ve been treated by the government, adding “that the commander in chief is the enemy.”

That was far from the spirit, though when surprise guest Jamey Johnson added an acoustic version of blue-collar activist Woody Guthrie’s classic “The Land is Your Land.”

Some of the other performers included Lee Greenwood, the Kentucky Headhunters, Blackberry Smoke, Phil Vassar, Craig Morgan, Tracy Lawrence, Jeannie Seely, veteran-turned-singer Ryan Weaver, Michael W. Smith, Billy Ray Cyrus, Terri Clark, Montgomery Gentry, Travis Tritt, Colt Ford and Trace Adkins.

At one point in the concert, Daniels — playing to what obviously was a “home crowd” — said he wanted to thank “all of you people who call me a redneck and a hillbilly. … A few more rednecks is what we need.”

There probably wouldn’t have been much room for more of them in the arena. Old times there were not forgotten.

Tim Ghianni is a freelance writer and author based in Nashville. He also continues his role as “journalist-in-residence” at Lipscomb University, where he has worked seven years.