Brad Paisley, Randy Owen + More Celebrate 25 Years of Country Cares for St. Jude
Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry on Tuesday night (Sept. 23), one saw the usual: a new artist -- in this case, Tae from Maddie & Tae -- wringing her hands as she prepared to make a debut, a slightly less new artist posing for a picture with a legend -- in this case Eric Paslay with Alabama's Randy Owen -- and the shuffling of talent to the circle and back for 10 to 15 minute mini-sets. Yet there was a different energy for this performance at country music's most well-known venue.
Maddie & Tae, Paslay, Owen and headliner Brad Paisley took the stage to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Country Cares for St. Jude Kids. Charlie Daniels and the cast of ABC’s ‘Nashville’ appeared during an evening in which a portion of the proceeds from tickets went to the cause. But it’s more than a cause for country’s biggest stars. It’s a mission.
It was Owen who first urged radio stations nationwide to take up this charity and life-saving hospital as a yearly cause. Since 1989, he's seen plenty of changes, but one thing in particular stands out.
“The walls,” he explains. “When I first went there, the walls were gray looking, and I said, ‘Why don’t you all do something with the walls? They look so dreary and everything.’ So now if you go to St. Jude, the kids color on the walls and the artists come in and there’s all kind of comments about … what the kids think. It makes it a much happier place."
Like Owen, Daniels speaks with passion about the kids and doctors at St. Jude, although the legend is more animated than his counterpart. The two country veterans have different styles, but preach the same message: It’s the hard work and volunteer hours put in by millions of Americans and hundreds of Music City’s most well-known stars that keeps the doors of the Memphis, Tenn. children’s hospital open.
"A lot of time St. Jude is the last resort," Daniels says. "That’s the last stop on the line, there’s nowhere else to go. If that don’t work, there’s no hope. That is the last hope and the best hope and people go there and so many times they go with a sick child and walk out with a well child.”
Adds the legend, “I am honored and I feel it’s a blessing from God to be able to do something with an outfit like that.”
Paslay -- sporting a tidier version of his signature ginger beard -- lit up to talk about the program and what St. Jude means to him. However, the night’s most special guest may have been 9-year-old Audrey Stanger, a three-year St. Jude patient who was the night’s special guest announcer. Daniels rambled to the stage to present her with flowers and a signed acoustic guitar during her time in the spotlight. The little girl admitted she didn’t know who he was before this night (her favorite artists include Taylor Swift and Taylor Swift), but knew enough to feel honored to meet the legend. Last week, the east Tennessean had her third surgery for a very rare type of cancer. Without St. Jude, it's clear she wouldn't have had the opportunity to marvel at Daniels' thick gray beard, signature hat or arresting speaking voice.
The stars talked while others played in front of another packed house. Paisley performed for 30 minutes, welcoming Owen to the stage to sing his part in 2011's ‘Old Alabama.’ Twenty five years and over $500 million raised is something to be proud of, but nothing to be satisfied with. Owen says he has a successor to his post in mind, but declined to offer hints other than "I'm watching him."
"I want $1 billion," Owen says frankly about his goals for Country Cares before he departs. But he wants even more. “So many people give money and then they walk away. What’s really important for something like this is to give money and don’t walk away."
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