“Everybody’s so excited to be here, to do something other than just promote our careers,” he said, “to be here as part of a bigger cause for St. Jude.”
But you didn’t need a backstage pass to feel it. From the stage to the stained-glass windows, and every seat in between, the “Mother Church of Country Music” was alive with a vibe inspired by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
It was thanks to nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones, who has raised more than $7.6 million for St. Jude. The third edition of his Bobby Bones & the Raging Idiots Million Dollar Show, an event created to celebrate past fundraising successes, featured stars (Keith Urban, Darius Rucker), surprise guests (Bentley, Hanson of “MMMBop” fame) and a whole lot of the irrepressible Bones and his band (performing everything from “Purple Rain,” with some help from Rucker, to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”).
“Bobby Bones is an incredible ambassador for St. Jude,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for the hospital.
Shadyac took the stage to start the night, introducing the crowd to St. Jude patients Abi and Mabry, and thanking country fans – all of country music – for their embrace of the St. Jude cause.
The cause established, the celebration began. What followed was nearly three hours of music from more than a dozen artists performing to a full house.
There was Bentley, who opened his set singing his hit “I Hold On,” and ended it holding a St. Jude pin aloft to the crowd.
There was Rucker, saying, “Always great to be here at the Ryman, always great to be doing something for St. Jude.” And then launching into “Wagon Wheel,” which had fans up and dancing.
There was Maren Morris, who vowed to “bring some church to the Mother Church,” singing her Grammy-winning single “My Church.” Later, she talked about the “blessing” of being involved with St. Jude, including a recent visit to the hospital during which she helped decorate cookies for patients.
There were the brothers of Hanson, one sporting a “This Shirt Saves Lives” T-shirt. They were inspired by the historic venue to gather at the edge of the stage, old school-style, for an a cappella number. The Ryman was church-quiet as they harmonized and snapped fingers.
And there was Urban, whose show-closing performance included his No. 1 hit “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” telling the crowd about his fan club raising $25,000 for St. Jude through the sale of a calendar.
A constant on the stage for most of the night was Bones, who grew up poor in rural Arkansas but has been proclaimed “the most powerful man in Country Music” by Forbes magazine. He has more than three million daily listeners to iHeartMedia’s “The Bobby Bones Show,” and a fan base, the magazine said, that’s “so rabid that it’s not uncommon for him to kick-start country careers with one spin.”
He’s used that same influence to raise money – more than $7.6 million and counting – for St. Jude.
“I want to say thank you for coming to an event that we need to continue doing, because of you guys,” he told the crowd Monday night. “And all the money goes to St. Jude, and it helps such a wonderful place. So thank you very much.”