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Darius Rucker staying the course of country music

TASTE OF COUNTRY

TASTE OF COUNTRY

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Darius Rucker; with Rodney Atkins, Jana Kramer. 7 p.m. June 28, Ravinia Festival, 418 Sheridan Road, Highland Park. $38-$85. (847) 266-5000; ravinia.org

Updated: July 30, 2013 7:18AM



Darius Rucker got the shock of his life a few weeks back. It wasn’t the news about the street being named after him in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. Or the fact that his current country hit, “Wagon Wheel,” had made its way onto the pop music charts. No, this shock was a whole lot more personal.

Darius Rucker — without any help from his Blowfish — was about to sell out Ravinia.

“It was one of the biggest shocks of my life,” recalls Darius during a recent interview. “I was calling some friends in Chicago and they told me they couldn’t get tickets. I could not believe it. It’s a great feeling to get to go back to a place that I love and a place that was always a Hootie and the Blowfish staple. To have done it myself feels like such a validation of what I wanted to accomplish in the first place.”

Indeed, it was just about six years ago when Rucker stood upon the Ravinia stage as the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish, quietly considering his decision to break off from the band to pursue a solo career in country music. Since then, Rucker has went on to establish quite an impressive music foundation as a country solo artist with multiple number one songs such as “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” and “Alright.” Currently on his first solo headlining tour, Rucker says getting out in front of a whole new generation who have little knowledge of his days as Hootie is awfully cool.

“We played Dallas the other day and went into [the 1995 Hootie and the Blowfish hit] ‘Only Wanna Be With You’,” says Rucker, who plays Ravinia on June 28 alongside openers Rodney Atkins and Jana Kramer. “I had been watching this group of young girls who had been dancing all night, but when that song came on, you just knew they had never heard the song before. They kept dancing, but they sure as heck didn’t know the words.”

Rucker’s most recent single and sixth country No. 1 hit is “Wagon Wheel,” a cover of the Old Crow Medicine Show tune and one of the many highlights of his third solo country album “True Believers.”

“It surprises me that so many people never heard this song before,” he says. “It is definitely helping me reach out to more people who might not have listened to me before. That’s what great songs do. But when I recorded it, I never realized it would be this big.”

And while he has seldom said it in so many words, chances are Rucker also never realized the acceptance he would receive and the friendships he would make within the country music industry.

“I remember going to those award shows years ago and even I had this weird feeling about just being there,” he says. “It’s nice to be a true part of the country music family now. I mean, Gary Levox and those Rascal Flatts boys? We are tight. Lady Antebellum? They are my real friends. It has nothing to do with work. They are just great people. I always like being friends with great people.”

And while Rucker says that performing alongside his Hootie and the Blowfish bandmates next year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their breakthrough album “Cracked Rear View” is a good possibility, he has no plans to leave country music behind anytime soon.

“It feels good not to be the new guy anymore,” he concludes. “After six years, people see that I’ve been committed to doing it. I’m not going anywhere.”

Tricia Despres is a Sun-Times free-lance writer.



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