Hootie & the Blowfish reconvene on Daniel Island for their 11th annual Homegrown Weekend
By T. Ballard Lesemann Special to The Post and Courier – Wednesday, August 21, 2013
If you go
What: Homegrown WeekendWhen: Friday-Saturday, VIPs have access at 5 p.m. with gates opening at 6 p.m. and the show starting at 7 p.m.Where: Family Circle Magazine Stadium, 161 Seven Farms Drive, Daniel IslandPrice: $27.50-$47.50For more info: familycircletenniscenter.com, www.hootie.comWhat: Homegrown Family DayWhen: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, gates open at 10:30 a.m.Where: Family Circle Magazine Stadium Price: Free
Hootie & the Blowfish will always be known best as the popular South Carolina pop-rock band with the smooth, Southern-tinged sound.
Singer-guitarist Darius Rucker, guitarist Mark Bryan, drummer Jim “Soni” Sonefeld and bassist Dean Felber were classmates at the University of South Carolina.
They made the rounds on the bar circuit for a while before bouncing out of Columbia's small music scene in the mid-'90s with “Cracked Rear View,” the Grammy Award-winning debut album that went on to sell more than 16 million copies. The collection featured the strummy hit singles “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry” and “I Only Want to Be with You.”
“Back in the USC dorms, each of us made a goal to have careers in music,” Bryan says of his bandmates. “We kind of made a pact to play music for a living, no matter what. I'm so thankful that we've been able to do that over the years.”
Nearly two decades after their initial chart-topping success, Hootie & the Blowfish have refocused their efforts to more philanthropic endeavors, particularly in their home state.
The full band and various special guests will return to Family Circle Magazine Stadium on Daniel Island for the 11th annual Homegrown Weekend, a yearly summer feature for the Hootie & the Blowfish Foundation, a private nonprofit organization that regularly donates money to music programs at S.C. schools. The band established the foundation in 2000 to focus on public education issues in South Carolina.
The foundation also hosts Hootie's Homegrown Roundup on Saturday afternoon at the stadium. The free pre-concert festival is designed to help underprivileged students from the Charleston County School District prepare for the upcoming school year.
Rucker remembers when he and his bandmates first considered starting the Hootie & the Blowfish Foundation. It stemmed from a moment he had in a Seattle hotel room after he read an article in USA Today stating that South Carolina was ranked 49th in the country (just ahead of Mississippi) in quality of education.
“That moment blew me away, the realization that things were that bad off for our kids,” Rucker says. “The effort to help out in some way was just fundraising; it wasn't about throwing money at a problem. It was more about raising awareness and continuing to help out over a period of time. It was about banging the drum and telling people that we've gotta do better, and trying to do better at it myself.”
Hootie & the Blowfish also established a fund with the Central Carolina Community Foundation to create opportunities for grants. Each year, much of the funding comes from the band's Monday After the Masters event, which follows the famous golf tournament in Augusta, Ga.
Already in its 19th year, the event is designed as a celebrity pro-am tournament, where celebrities, pro golfers and friends of the band travel to Myrtle Beach for a weekend.
“Twenty years ago, I definitely believed the band would still be together for years to come,” Bryan says. “I always knew we'd have a long career. We were all determined about that. I don't think any of us knew that our gold tournament would last this long, though. We didn't expect that it would become what it has. It's an epic event with great players and celebrities, and it's still growing.”
Beyond the Blowfish
Rucker is a native of West Ashley who lives East of the Cooper.
Six years ago, he took a major musical detour, setting his course as a solo country singer/songwriter.
In 2008, he released a twangy collection titled “Learn to Live” on Capitol Records. The platinum-selling album earned Rucker the New Artist of the Year award from the Country Music Association in 2009.
His 2010 follow-up, “Charleston, SC 1966,” was certified gold with the hits “Come Back Song” and “This.”
Rucker released his third solo country album, “True Believers,” last year. Special guest performers on the album included Sheryl Crow and members of Lady Antebellum.
As a solo artist, Rucker has supported a handful of national charities such as ACM Lifting Lives, the ANNIKA Foundation and the Fisher House Foundation.
He also recently collaborated with ONEHOPE's Signature Series, an exclusive wine program, with funds raised going to benefit children at Mount Pleasant's Pattison's Academy, an organization that aims to improve the quality of life for children with multiple disabilities.
“A lot of special events and charity opportunities come up randomly,” Rucker says. “When somebody calls me up to help out, I try to do it. When it's something like Pattison's Academy, it hits home for me because I have a niece who goes to school there. To me, that place needs all the money and support it can get.”
Renaming a road
Rucker's efforts to give back to his community and fan base through charitable works were recognized just weeks ago at a dedication ceremony at the North Charleston Coliseum, where the city of North Charleston officially renamed a road off of International Boulevard as Darius Rucker Boulevard.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey also proclaimed that Aug. 12 will forever be known as Darius Rucker Day in the city of North Charleston.
A group of fans, family and supporters turned out to watch him hang out with radio personalities from local station WEZL 103.5 FM and city officials. The event was broadcast live on WEZL.
“You have not forgotten where you came from, and you come home, and you give directly back to the community,” Summey told Rucker on stage during the dedication ceremony. “This is to recognize your success ... you and your wife and your entire family. To recognize you even more for who you are, and what you are, what you mean to this community, and your service giving back — and not forgetting that you're a homegrown guy.”
WEZL morning show co-hosts T.J. Phillips and Ric Rush joined Rucker on stage, as well. Phillips and Rush were instrumental in getting the ball rolling earlier this year to rename the road. After promoting the change on the show in the spring, the duo got a call from Summey, who loved the idea.
“We looked into it, and I thought the entry to the Coliseum would be ideal,” Summey says. “Now, not only every person who comes to shows will see it, but every performer who comes to town will see that we honor people like this.”
“I feel very proud today. Not only is Darius a world-renowned entertainer, but he comes home and gives back,” Summey added. “That's very unusual to see that happen. A lot of times, when people become so successful, they lose their grounding. Darius has done so much for the greater Charleston area that we thought we should do something like this while he can enjoy it and his children and wife can enjoy it.
“His name will go on forever as someone that contributed to this area and to the music business, as well.”
Humbled by the dedication, Rucker admitted he never expected that a city in the Lowcountry would ever name a street after him.
“You know, I live in the Charleston area because I want to,” he tells Charleston Scene. “It's a great city to live in, and I'm proud that people actually recognize me for the things I try to do. We don't go out and try to bang the drums and pound it out. I just do it. It's really great that people are noticing it. What a recognition.”
Ready for the weekend
With his solo career in full gear, Rucker's Hootie & the Blowfish activities have mostly focused on raising funds, awareness and school supplies through the Hootie & the Blowfish Foundation and the annual Homegrown Weekend.
“It's really amazing. The Homegrown concert series has gone further than we ever thought it would go,” Rucker says. “It's a tradition now. People plan their vacations around it!
“It's great that we can do this for the kids. It's awesome to be able to give teachers the school supplies they need. And it's cool that a concert like this has kind of become Charleston lore. If we didn't do it one year, I think fans would be really upset,” he says.
Bryan, the other Hootie bandmate still based in the Lowcountry, also looks forward to performing with the band again on Daniel Island.
“Like Monday After the Masters, the Homegrown concert events have developed into an intimate thing,” he says. “It does have sort of a homecoming or reunion feeling to it. I know I have a bunch of old friends coming into town for it.”
When he's not performing with Hootie & the Blowfish or his local side project Occasional Milkshake, Bryan regularly collaborates with musicians on stage and in the studio and teaches a music marketing class at the College of Charleston.
He also serves on the board of directors for Carolina Studios, a program that provides youths and young adults with an after-school environment that promotes productive use of time through music technology, graphic arts, digital photography and video technology.
Bryan's Chucktown Music Group regularly releases new music from budding Southeastern artists through the online “Song of the Fortnight” series. He's even released his own latest original pieces as singles through the series.
According to Bryan and Rucker, the band's chemistry and technique haven't diminished at all over the years. They feel they'll be as tight and together musically this weekend as they were in their heyday in the 1990s.
“We could play right now, tonight, if we had to,” Rucker says. “The four us have done this for so many years, it's like riding a bike.”
Bryan adds, “I'm knocking on wood as I say this, but we know how to come together well and play well. We know when we're not quite in full tour form where we're playing a lot of consecutive nights, but the shows are always really good. They feel good, and everyone still feels locked in. It's still a lot of fun.”
It might be surprising to some fans to hear that Hootie & the Blowfish rarely rehearse more than a few times before the Homegrown Weekend.
“We usually just get together on the Thursday evening before the weekend at the stadium,” Bryan says. “In prior years, we've just gotten together at my house to run through songs. We've been getting together for these shows every year, and there's really not that much rust to shake off.
“Darius has been going full-steam all year, so he's good to go. I'm playing between 20 and 25 shows a year. Everyone knows their parts. We'll have different sets for each night, all of the hits and possibly a few surprises.”
The Hootie & the Blowfish Homegrown Weekend will kick off Friday with special guest Everclear in the opening spot.
Led by singer/guitarist Art Alexakis, the Portland-based alt-rock band rose to prominence in the mid- to late-'90s with the hits “Heroin Girl,” “Santa Monica,” Father of Mine” and “Wonderful.”
Saturday's events will start with the Homegrown Family Day, a free pre-concert event on the Grand Lawn at Family Circle Magazine Stadium.
In addition to the kids' activities and “creation stations,” there will be vendors, refreshments, a rock-climbing wall, a hula hoop station and plenty of live music by local musicians from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Singer/guitarist Caroline McLeod will kick things off, followed by (in order of appearance) singer/songwriter Tyler Boone, pop-rock quartet A Fragile Tomorrow, jam-rock band Atlas Road Crew and country/Americana act Adalya.
“We're glad to have everyone on that early bill for Saturday,” Bryan says. “We never personally try to book the acts, but we're friends with many of the musicians. I enjoyed working with Atlas Road Crew last year on their studio stuff. I just saw them last week, and singer Taylor (Nicholson) can flat-out get it. He has one of those gravelly rock 'n' roll voices that you want to keep on hearing.”
On Saturday night, country/Americana singer/songwriter Pat Green will open the show for Hootie & the Blowfish.
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Green is a veteran performer on the national circuit. He and his band recently released a twangy collection titled “Songs We Wish We'd Written II.”
“We'd played with Pat Green over the years, so he was an obvious choice,” Bryan says of this year's Homegrown lineup. “Everclear was brought in by our manager, Doc McGee, who thought it would be a good match. We've actually never played with them before. I'm a fan, and I look forward to hooking up with them.”
There's always been a country vs. rock 'n' roll aspect of the Homegrown Weekend. Last year, Nashville, Tenn., country singer Justin Moore opened for Hootie & the Blowfish one night while alt-rock band Collective Soul opened on the other.
Previous bills have featured such acts as Toad the Wet Sprocket, Sister Hazel, The Blue Dogs, Danielle Howle and Crowfield.
“I think with the last few years, we've had a nice mix of rock and country on the bill,” Bryan says. “I think it's fun for the bands. It's nice to present both sides of our own sound to them, because there are elements of country and rock in our music.”
Where might Hootie & the Blowfish go from here as they head toward the 20th anniversary of their “Cracked Rear View” smash release?
Bryan and his bandmates are comfortable with bouncing along at their current casual pace.
“Darius has had so much success up in Nashville, and that's fun to watch,” Bryan says. “We've got to let that take its course before we move ahead with anything, but I'm interested to hear what Hootie will sound like in the 2000-teens, you know? I'd like to do a new album, and I think we'll get there at some point.”