The artist formerly known as Hootie was in the building Saturday night. Darius Rucker, who for years fronted the highly successful rock group Hootie and the Blowfish and of late has found new life as a country singer, brought it all to the Cumberland County Civic Center.

Rucker’s distinctive baritone voice would fit nicely with just about any genre of music. But the South Carolina native, one of the few black artists to reach the top of the country music world, offered a number of his original or co-written tunes that comfortably made for an appealing blend of classics with newer material.

The 47-year-old opened with several tunes from his latest disc: “True Believers.” “Radio” set the show’s high-volume sound and the singer quickly swerved to avoid “Heartbreak Road” where “Miss You” would be all he would be able to do.

Each song was a well-crafted glimpse into lives full of happiness and sorrow with a sweet and soulful companion showing the way. Interesting videos played on multiple screens on and above the stage during “Southern State of Mind” and throughout the show.

Visiting his Hootie days, the singer offered takes on “Hold My Hand” and “Let Her Cry,” which the large crowd recognized with a singalong.

“Time” was another oldie favorite that led into a version of John Mellencamp’s “Little Pink Houses” that rocked particularly hard.


Rucker brought things decidedly back into the country realm with down-home versions of “Family Tradition” and Jerry Reed’s “East Bound and Down.”

A big finish with the song “True Believers” led into an encore of “Wagon Wheel,” which, as the song’s lyrics suggest, had most of the “mamas” (not to mention the papas) in the audience rocking.

Earlier in the evening, it seemed like there was danger of a full-tilt rock concert breaking out as the two opening acts visited some classic territory.

The Eli Young Band put the rock back in country with guitar-heavy numbers of their own like “Drunk Last Night” and “Crazy Girl” as well as pushing hard through a version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps.”

Joel Crouse, a 21-year-old phenom from Massachusetts, opened with his hit “Why God Made Love Songs” before veering into classic rock territory with a nice take on Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” and the Beatles’ “Get Back.”

It was a full evening of music that seemed to get young and not-so-young audience members back to where they once belonged: having a good time on Saturday night.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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