How stand-up a guy is Darius Rucker? A few weeks ago, right after accepting a Grammy Award in Los Angeles, the singer-songwriter flew home to Charleston and went straight from the airport to a songwriting panel at the College of Charleston being moderated by his Hootie and The Blowfish bandmate Mark Bryan. Rucker certainly didn't have to do it, but he not only sat with Bryan and fellow guest Carrie Ann Hearst and answered questions about his craft, he also stayed after and shook hands and posed for photos with anyone who asked.
One would not necessarily expect a star of Rucker's caliber to do that, but it was his hometown fans, and if there is one thing Rucker has demonstrated over the years, it's that he loves the Lowcountry. His music video for "Come Back Song" from a few years ago might as well have been a commercial for the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, what with its views of cobblestone streets, downtown sights, and the Ravenel Bridge. Rucker also loves showing his support for his alma mater, the University of South Carolina, and that school's beloved Gamecock football team.
At last Thursday night's concert at the North Charleston Coliseum, Rucker was sporting a Gamecock ball cap, a belt buckle in the shape of his home state, and a garnet-colored microphone as he dazzled a sellout crowd with songs from both his solo albums and his work with Hootie.
Rucker made an entrance befitting the megastar he's become in the country music world. First a giant video screen flashed pictures of everything from a victrola, to a cassette Walkman, to an iPod playing songs by everyone from Cab Calloway to R.E.M. Rucker's band then kicked into "Radio," one of the hit singles of his latest album, "True Believers." Rucker emerged from a door under the drum riser, bathed in bright light, just in time to kick into the song's first verse, which most of the crowd seemed to be singing with him. From there, it was an evening of music and catching up with old friends. Rucker talked about how happy he was to be coming home to play at the Coliseum, and reminisced about when Hootie sold out the same venue for two consecutive nights back in the 90's at the peak of that band's popularity. The street leading to the Coliseum was recently renamed Darius Rucker Boulevard in his honor, and prior to the show fans reported seeing Rucker being interviewed by a TV crew under the street sign. After a beautiful version of his song "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," Rucker played a rousing cover of John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses." It was one of many fun covers Rucker would throw in as the night went on. In between performances of his solo work like "This," "The Craziest Thing," and "It Won't Be Like This For Long," Rucker played several Hootie songs, including "Time," "Let Her Cry," "Hold My Hand," and "Only Wanna Be With You." Most of those tunes were reworked slightly to a more country-friendly sound, but the crowd reacted well, possibly because just about everyone in Charleston over the age of 30 has a copy of Hootie's "Cracked Rear View" stashed somewhere in their CD collection.
Later in the show Rucker invited opening acts David Nail and The Eli Young Band to join him onstage for a cover of Hank Williams, Jr's "Family Tradition," which Rucker revealed that Hootie played at its very first gig back in the 80's. Rucker also performed a well-received cover of Jerry Reed's "Eastbound and Down," from the film "Smokey and The Bandit." After closing with the title track to his new album, Rucker bid the crowd goodnight, but soon returned for an encore, during which he performed the Old Crow Medicine Show tune "Wagon Wheel," as well as a dazzling cover of Prince's "Purple Rain" before finally calling it a night. The good times were apparently repeated the next night up the road in Columbia, where Rucker and his band had another sold out show in the city where Hootie was born.
Throughout the show Rucker seemed genuinely emotional at the love being given by his hometown audience. As the first African-American country artist since Charlie Pride to make this much of an impact on the musical genre, Rucker seems to have settled into a great second chapter in an already charmed career in entertainment.
Those two opening acts, David Nail and The Eli Young Band, both did a great job of pumping the crowd up for Rucker's set, especially the Texas-based Eli Young Band, whose lead singer, Mike Eli, has an undeniably charismatic onstage presence. (Images via Devin Grant, PostandCourier)