Rucker delivered country, Hootie, and more
Three songs into his 20-plus song set at Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA on Thursday night (Aug 5th), Darius Rucker sang “For the First Time.” For many that night, it was indeed their first time seeing the country icon in person.
Taking the stage a little after 8:30 pm, Rucker opened his concert with the classic country-sounding “All I Want” and immediately into the string-driven “This.”
Perhaps no other country artist has quite the range as Rucker. He seemed to feel every note of his rowdy cover of Hank Williams’ “Family Tradition.” But Rucker easily turned off the twang and turned up his velvety, soulful vocals on “My Masterpiece.” While “Alright” and “Homegrown Honey” are rockers that don’t require neo-traditional twang but still embrace the country label.
Rucker, who came to prominence as the frontman for the South Carolina-based rock group Hootie & the Blowfish, embarked on a solo career at a time when country music was finding its footing in the new millennium. The oughts were not yet plagued with bro-country, but the stratospheric fame of Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and the like meant country music was also being infused with more pop as the market demanded.
It is amazing, then, that Rucker was able to establish himself as a country artist mostly interested in a neo-traditional sound. Granted, Hootie was never not a country band. In fact, Darius introduced the Hootie song “Let Her Cry” as the first country song he ever wrote. The Blowfish catalogue was also represented with “Hold My Hand” and “Only Wanna Be With You.”
The mood for each number was set by the smart use of gobo lighting and coloration on Musikfest’s skeletally naked stage. (It is, after all, on the grounds of Bethlehem Steel. Fitting that the stage should show off its metal.)
The artist, fans, and band seemed genuinely grateful to be back playing music. This theme has persisted since concerts returned in early summer. The vibe at the ‘Fest was all the better for it. Throughout his show, Rucker performed as if feeling every single note for the first time, grooving along with the thousands of fans at the ArtsQuest plaza’s Steel Stage. He radiated the down-to-earth persona of someone who simply loves music.
Rucker’s hour and 45 minute concert was preceded by Sony/Villa40-signed recording artist Tyler Booth. His energetic hour set and rich baritone mix to create an X factor rarely found in an opening act. Booth is a southern rocker worth watching. Expect big things.
It might have been TMU’s “First Time” covering Rucker. But we would hop any “Wagon Wheel” to see Darius Rucker again and again.