Darius Rucker brings fans together at Festival
By Steve Wildsmith | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The answer to that question on Sunday at the 2012 Foothills Fall Festival depended on the age of the respondent. Older fans certainly remembered Sunday night headliner Darius Rucker from his days as singer for the rock band Hootie and the Blowfish, which sold more than 16 million copies of its 1994 debut album, “Cracked Rear View.”
Younger fans, however, were much more inclined to know Rucker from his later-in-life career as a top-selling country music artist.
“I don’t think I ever heard Hootie,” said Lenoir City resident Jennifer Barton, sitting near the back at Jack Greene Park’s border with Pistol Creek. “I mean, I’ve heard of them, but I haven’t checked them out. I mostly listen to the radio.”
“She’ll recognize it when she hears it,” assured her boyfriend, Zach Bledsoe, also of Lenoir City. “I’m not that old, but I definitely remember when Hootie was all over the radio. It’s still weird, hearing him do country. It’s like his voice doesn’t quite fit, even though his songs are great. But maybe that’s because I associated him with Hootie and the Blowfish for so long.”
It took him four songs to get to the music that first made him famous, but Rucker didn’t disappoint fans young or old during his Sunday night set. “Let Her Cry” was the first of several of Hootie’s biggest hits, along with a handful of cover songs (“The Joker,” by the Steve Miller Band, “Wagon Wheel,” by Old Crow Medicine Show, “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” by David Allan Coe) and selections from his two country albums, “Learn to Live” and “Charleston SC 1966.” Taking the stage wearing a University of South Carolina Gamecocks ball cap (Hootie and the Blowfish first formed when Rucker and his bandmates were students there) and a Marvin the Martian T-shirt, Rucker strolled the stage and seemed as relaxed as the crowd was enthusiastic.
Although not as crowded as Saturday night’s performance by pop-rockers Train, Jack Greene Park was still standing-room-only around the stage, as thousands of fans came out to cap what Community Relations Manager Jane Groff described as another successful Foothills Fall Festival.
“The artists all loved Maryville, and the fans were extremely grateful and enthusiastic,” Groff said. “Of course, we couldn’t have done any of this without our wonderful army of volunteers and organizers. From Adventure Land to the ArtWay to the concerts, it’s been a team effort, and I’m proud that we’ve again shown so many people from Blount County and beyond how to have a great time.”
Kameron Miller, 15, and Destiny Hannah, 14, were two of those volunteers. After their shifts manning the inflatables at Adventure Land, they came down to Jack Greene Park to see Darius Rucker. Both students at William Blount High School, they didn’t make the connection between Rucker and Hootie and the Blowfish until reminded that he used to sing for such a band.
“I just love his music; I think he’s got some great songs,” Miller said.
Although the sun never fully came out from behind the clouds, and passing sprinkles sent road crews scrambling backstage to cover sensitive gear and equipment, the rain held off for the final day of the festival, which included performances by local acts Pistol Creek Catch of the Day and Brad Blackwell and country bands The Farm and Thompson Square. Some fans, like mother and daughter Traci and Raven Williams of Knoxville, camped out early in hopes of getting some face time with Rucker.
Traci described herself as a “pretty big” fan.
“I’m at the right age to where it goes back to his Hootie and the Blowfish days, and it’s one of the few musical people she and I both agree on,” she said. The two made the trek to Maryville for the festival For Raven’s 17th birthday. The teen shrugged when asked about Hootie, deferring to her mom.
“I’m really bad with band names,” Raven said.
“I’m not sure she’s even heard of Hootie and the Blowfish,” added Traci, who said that as an avid fan of rock ’n’ roll in the 1980s, the vulnerability and honesty of Rucker’s lyrics with Hootie won her over.
“You could listen to the lyrics, and coming after the hair bands, they were very refreshing,” she said. “Just their sound — it was catchy and current and different, and I guess I was in the right age group, because I just loved them.”
And it was love all over again when she heard Rucker’s first country album, “Learn to Live,” released in 2008.
“I love it,” she said. “His soul is still in it. The songs are different, but they’re just as good as what made Hootie and the Blowfish so enjoyable.”
Rucker ended his set with a final cover song, one younger fans may have thought was an original but Hootie’s older fans no doubt remembered fondly: “Purple Rain,” by Prince. And that, said Anderson Knott of Myrtle Beach, S.C. — part of Rucker’s road crew and a personal friend for more than two decades — is what makes Rucker an artist.
“You just know there’s something special about that voice when you first hear it,” Knott said. “And if you listen to Hootie, their music is not too far from what country is now: mandolin, banjo, lap steel guitar. Darius said the first country song he ever wrote was ‘Let Her Cry,’ which ought to tell you something.”