John Rich finished a rousing version of the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire,” then looked into the camera and said, “Hey, can you see my ball cap? Should I lean in? Oh, man. I mean, the only thing better than a St. Jude ball cap is a camouflage St. Jude ball cap.”
Fellow country star Michael Ray, wearing a “This Shirt Saves Lives” t-shirt, said, “I need to get one of those, man.”
It was a virtual performance to cap off St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Marathon weekend, with Rich and Ray in separate locations and singing for an audience of St. Jude Heroes they couldn’t see. But when they started talking about St. Jude and then put that same passion into their singing, it sure seemed like a real and present moment from the good, old days — like, you know, 2019.
One of the annual highlights of the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Marathon weekend has been the St. Jude Heroes Brunch, hosted for eight straight years by Rich at his home. This year, of course, everything has changed — marathon events were postponed and replaced with virtual versions.
So this year’s Sunday session featured Rich and Ray performing acoustically as an exclusive treat for some 400 St. Jude Heroes who met certain fundraising thresholds.
“If you’re watching this right now, you feel like I feel,” said Rich, who has been supporting St. Jude for about 25 years now, through performances, hospital visits and events at his home.
“You should be proud you’re a part of that. It means a lot, to your life, to your life story, that you can add on to the adjectives of your name — St. Jude supporter.”
Ray, a veteran of several St. Jude events and hospital visits, said, “I think we’re all put on this earth to be a part of something bigger than us, something we can leave behind.”
He thanked Rich for helping lead him to the St. Jude cause. “I’ve been inspired by John and his passion for St. Jude, before I ever even really understood what was going on — just his passion for it,” he said.
The hour-long event featured hits such as Ray’s “Think a Little Less,” and Rich’s performance of a song they wrote together, “Run Away With You,” along with some storytelling and lots of St. Jude.
Rich also performed a song he wrote for St. Jude, “For the Kids,” which he dedicated to “the scientists who sit behind the scenes, that will never be noticed or talked about — the men and women that sit back there and come up with new ways to treat cancer.”
Rich and Ray’s performances put a virtual exclamation point on a weekend of marathon-related fun and fundraising — from the virtual pasta party to country pop band King Calaway’s national anthem before the virtual marathon. For the marathon, runners posted pictures, including virtual start and finish lines, from their runs.
There was plenty of real amid all the virtual — and not just the $1 million-plus raised for the cause by St. Jude Heroes. The human connections were real, too.