Coming Home

October 2014
Written By: 
Sara Sobota
Photographs by: 
Jody MacKenzie
Playing country or rock ’n’ roll, Darius Rucker draws an enthusiastic Grand Strand crowd
When Darius Rucker recently took the stage at Coastal Carolina University, he completed a Grand Strand trifecta of career performances. First as an up-and-coming rock star with Hootie and the Blowfish in the early 1990s, then as an annual celebrity and performer at the band’s own charity event Monday After the Masters, and now as a Grammy-winning country singer, Rucker has been entertaining area audiences up close and personal for more than two decades.

Since signing with Capitol Records and reintroducing himself to the music world as a country artist in 2008, Rucker has proven that musical talent transcends genres. His first country album, Learn to Live, included three singles that hit the top of the charts, including “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” and “Alright,” while his second album, Charleston, SC 1966, scored two number ones with “Come Back Song” and “This.” And the hits, of all kinds, just keep on coming for Rucker as he establishes himself as a player in a second branch of the music industry. He was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in October 2012, and his cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” from his current True Believers album, earned him a Grammy award for Best Country Solo Performance in 2013. In addition to breaking industry records, Rucker has broken a color barrier: In 2009, he became the first black man to win the New Artist Award from the Country Music Association.

The tone and content of Rucker’s music reflect his purpose as a performer: upbeat, pure and simple. He wants people to enjoy his music, and he wants to have fun. The best part of touring? “Playing for people; that’s always my favorite,” Rucker says. “Hitting that stage for the couple of hours and playing the music people have come to see. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a little boy.”

The current generation of 30- and 40-something locals best remember Rucker’s early performances with Hootie and the Blowfish at venues like The Purple Gator and the Afterdeck, when they could give him a high five and buy him a beer after the show. Golfers rub shoulders with Rucker every year as he comes to town with band members Mark Bryan, Dean Felber and Jim “Soni” Sonefeld, along with a bevy of superstar musicians and athletes, to host a celebrity pro-am golf tournament. This year marked the 20th anniversary for Monday After the Masters, and as the tradition continues, Rucker is evolving into a regular fixture on the Grand Strand special event scene.

So it was only fitting that Rucker perform at CCU’s HTC Center for a sold-out show as a stop on his True Believers tour. He’s made his mark as one of the hottest country stars around, but to area residents familiar with his performance history and his deep roots in the state—as a native and resident of Charleston and student at the University of South Carolina—he’s like the cool uncle that comes to visit on holidays.

For Grand Strand residents who have been following Rucker since back in the day, his twin personas as rock star and country singer form a seamless union. April Jordan and Wendy Hayes, both of Conway, used to see Hootie and the Blowfish in the 1990s at many venues, including the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach and fraternity houses at USC. “We loved Hootie, and now we’re growing into country girls,” Jordan said. “We just love Darius, and it’s fun that we get to continue seeing him so many years later.” Jenifer Sweat of Myrtle Beach organized a tailgate party to bring friends together before the concert, and the atmosphere resembled a college reunion. “Most everyone here has known each other for years, and we’re all Darius fans and Hootie fans. Some are country fans, some are not, and some will be converted after tonight,” Sweat predicted.

Meanwhile, some local couples appreciate different sides of the Rucker coin. Todd Setzer of Myrtle Beach noted, “I’ve been following Hootie since high school, and my wife Ashley has been following Darius and his country music. In a few years, we’ll be bringing the kids along to these shows.” None of this enthusiasm is lost on Rucker, who’s noted that his fans range in age “from 6 to 60” and who brought a mixed bag of high-energy music to the stage that night at CCU. Opening with country hits “Radio” and “Heartbreak Road,” Rucker acknowledged early on in the show that he’s been around these parts for a while before breaking into the Hootie and the Blowfish hit “Time.” The show proceeded with a blend of music that covered all bases of the Hootie/Rucker spectrum and included bows to both classic rock and classic country covers such as John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” and Hank Williams’ “Family Tradition.” In addition, Rucker’s performance of the new single “Homegrown Honey” was filmed during the show for use in his upcoming video.

And so Rucker rocked the Myrtle Beach house again. No matter if it’s Hootie, Monday After the Masters, or a country music gig, Grand Strand fans will always welcome the star to his Carolina home away from home.