Fierce females in country music flocked to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Monday (June 6) evening to participate in the 13th Annual Darius & Friends benefit concert for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Throughout the years, the live auction and must-see show have become the unofficial kick-off to CMA Fest week in Music City. The “Beers And Sunshine” singer called in icon Sheryl Crow, Lindsay Ell, Sara Evans, Caylee Hammack, and Rachel Wammack to start the party on the right foot.
It’s been nearly 15 years since the Hootie and the Blowfish frontman made a commitment to support St. Jude. At the time, Rucker was just embarking on his solo career in country music and was opening up for Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley during a summer trek. While on a stop in Memphis, Bentley encouraged Rucker to join him on a trip to St. Jude’s headquarters. The quick tour of the hospital inspired Rucker to drive their initiative and prioritize philanthropic work.
“I’m seeing the kids and the doctors and the administrators and everything, and I’m talking to one administrator, and she says, ‘Yeah, if you’re from Canada or America, Boise or Atlanta or Sanford, when you bring your kid to St. Jude, we fly you in, we put you up, we feed you, and we never send you a bill,’” he recalled during the star-studded affair. “You know what I said when they said that to me? I said, ‘Bull--.’ But I started talking to people, and it’s true. That day I said I wanted to do something to help, even in my little way. I’m doing this for St. Jude and also doing it for the great town of Nashville,” he added.
As music filled the legendary venue, the group of performers and the audience never lost sight of the primary purpose that brought them all together – to help the children battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
While raising awareness and money, Darius took the stage a whopping 16 times to perform hits from his impressive repertoire and to duet with the leading ladies. Each musician on the secretive lineup was asked to play originals and a well-known cover.
The early 2000s hitmaker Sara Evans was the first to take the spotlight to perform originals “Suds in the Bucket,” “A Little Bit Stronger,” and a chilling cover of Yvonne Elliman's “If I Can’t Have You.”
Breakout star Rachel Wammack followed and delivered fan-favorite “Bless Your Little Heart,” and Miranda Lambert’s chart-topping classic, “Little Red Wagon.” Former CMT Next Women of Country member, Caylee Hammack wowed with “Family Tree,” “Forged In The Fire,” a rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and closed out by singing “Never Been” with Rucker. In the midst of her set, she told a heart-wrenching story of how she lost her house in 2017 to fire and shared a quote about strength.
Country-rock legend Sheryl Crow pushed the three-hour concert along by pulling “If It Makes You Happy” and “Everyday Is A Winding Road” from her 1996 self-titled record. The hitmaker and Rucker joined forces to share her No.1 smash hit, “The First Cut Is The Deepest.” Lindsay Ell took the stage full force and matched Crow’s electrifying energy with her recently released track “Right On Time,” “I Don’t Love You,” and an extraordinary rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”
Just before Rucker closed out the night with his people-pleasing hit “Wagon Wheel,” a resilient myeloid leukemia survivor named Addie took center stage to share her story and experience with St. Jude.
“It was honestly the scariest moment of my life. I was 15 at the time. So, I was just a normal high school kid, and my entire life was flipped upside down in a matter of minutes,” she said about her life-altering diagnosis. “But now here I am, and I’m five years cancer free.”
With a roaring round of applause, the courageous individual tackled “Never Enough” by Loren Allred. The total from the touching fundraiser has yet to be calculated. Concert-goers had the opportunity to bid on a Brooks & Dunn/ Darius Ricker VIP experience for $4,000, a guitar signed by 17 stars for 15,000, an acoustic guitar autographed by Rucker, etc. Tickets to the event started at $50 and ranged to $150. To date, the event has raised more than $2.5 million.
To learn more about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and to donate, head to St.jude.org.