Charleston native and renowned country music phenom Darius Rucker surprised us all with this cryptic tweet on Tuesday afternoon: “Can’t leave y’all hanging any longer. I’m taping a #CMTInstantJam TOMORROW night in Charleston! Want to be there? Details at 9 a.m. tomorrow.”
Wait, what? Within 30 hours, Rucker was onstage at The Windjammer on Isle of Palms as part of CMT’s Instant Jam series. CofC students received the opportunity to attend the show for free and they could not get in line quickly enough Wednesday morning. The Cistern buzzed with students hoping and praying to reach the front of the line before the limited number of tickets disappeared, which they did quickly. If you were lucky enough to be at The Windjammer on Wednesday night, you were lucky enough.
With his overwhelming love for all things Southern and more specifically, for all things Charleston, it is no surprise that Rucker put on a show full of passion and hometown pride. The crowd’s energy was palpable as Rucker sang hit after hit alongside his band, The Carolina Grey Boys. Taking the stage at 7:30 p.m., he sang the sun down and pumped the crowd up. People glowed with excitement. They laughed and danced and united under one realization, the realization that we were all in a very special place that night. Charleston is his home and he sang to us like he would a room full of his closest friends.
Rucker started off the night with his hit single, “This.” I sang every word as the song reverberated through my body and echoed in the fading sky. The intimate setting brought us all right in front of the stage, close enough to feel connected everywhere – to the picturesque scenery, the intense energy of the crowd, to Rucker and the band.
“I was born and raised right down the street, y’all,” Rucker said humbly between songs. Cue “Southern Style,” the song that titles his latest album, released in 2015. Rucker’s hometown pride manifests itself in all of his music and his onstage presence is wholly reminiscent of Charleston’s spirit as a community and as a city – a city that, according to Rucker, is the greatest city in the entire world. “And I’ve been everywhere, man,” he told us.
Listening to Rucker sing his music in a place that means so much to him made the experience that much more meaningful for us. The Windjammer has been his favorite venue to play for 26 years, he said. It was an honor to be there with him as he poured his soul into each person swaying in the sand. I heard a girl beside me say that she missed her first class of the semester to wait in line for a ticket. I felt so fortunate to witness a performer in his ultimate element, on his hometown stage.
Rucker brought us nothing but good vibes and sweet nostalgia as he sang about love and loss and pride and longing, the relatable themes weaved into all of his music. People leaned over their balconies lining the beachfront. They danced barefoot and felt the wholesome, healing effects of good country music and sand between their toes. Even the cameramen smiled contagiously. The elusivity and spontaneity behind this show only fueled its fervor.
Not only does Rucker have a connection to Charleston, but he has connection to college students as well because started his career playing the college circuit for several years with Hootie & The Blowfish. They would perform for very little pay, or sometimes just for free beer while Rucker attended the University of South Carolina.
“Wagon Wheel” encapsulated all of the evening’s feelings. One of The Carolina Grey Boys started to play the fiddle, throwing a completely new sound into the mix. I looked around and noticed everyone had their hands in the air and their heads turned to the sky, singing to something better. “Rock me mama,” we all belted.
“How beautiful is this?” Rucker asked us about halfway through his set. So, so beautiful.
The concert premiers Sep. 5 at 10:00 p.m. on CMT.