Charlie Daniels, Surprise Guests Celebrate 40th Anniversary Volunteer Jam [PICTURES]
Charlie Daniels sold out Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday night (Aug. 12) for his 40th anniversary Volunteer Jam, a star-studded show that included surprise guests, a slew of top-notch artists and, of course, a whole lot of fiddle playing.
The show kicked off with an iconic song: Lee Greenwood sang "God Bless the USA," and from the very first note, the packed house was hooked. This year's Volunteer Jam was an event that fans have been waiting for; after all, Daniels hadn't hosted an official Volunteer Jam in Nashville since 1996. But in 2015, it came back to Music City, bigger than ever.
The Volunteer Jam is a benefit for the U.S. military and veterans through the Journey Home Project, and throughout the evening, video footage of incredibly inspirational veterans played on the big screens, and several vets were in the audience as well. Two survivors of the September 2012 attacks on American diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, appeared onstage to a standing ovation. As the Oak Ridge Boys told the media prior to the show, "There's nothing like honoring our military."
Blackberry Smoke brought their Southern rock to the stage early on in the evening -- the first surprise special guests in a lineup included Ted Nugent, Trace Adkins, Alabama, Terri Clark, Billy Ray Cyrus, Colt Ford, the Grascals, the Kentucky Headhunters, Tracy Lawrence, the Oak Ridge Boys, Ryan Weaver, Wynonna Judd, Craig Morgan, Lee Roy Parnell, Billy Dean, Michael W. Smith, Travis Tritt, Phil Vassar, Montgomery Gentry and more -- yes, more. Daniels had some big surprises up his sleeve, and Blackberry Smoke's appearance was just the beginning.
While most acts had a one-song set (and chose to perform their most well-known hits), Daniels and his tight-knit band played 11 songs, and each was better than the last. Natalie Stovall played the raucous "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" with Daniels, while Dean and Parnell also helped out during Daniels' set.
"If you leave before the last note is played, you're going to regret it in the morning," Daniels announced at the beginning of his stage time -- and he wasn't lying.
Eric Church, another surprise guest, appeared onstage to huge applause from the audience a of couple hours into the show. He sang Daniels' 1980 hit "In America," with his trademark aviators and a telltale smile on his face. Even famous country rockers get a little starstruck, after all.
"Charlie Daniels was a giant influence in my musical DNA," Church tells the Tennessean. "What he has done with the Volunteer Jam is honorable. What he has done in music is iconic. He is a gentleman and a patriot, and it was my honor to be in his presence."
Daniels' pleasure in the event was apparent throughout. Forty years is a lot to be proud of, but he's certainly not taking the success of the Volunteer Jam for granted.
"When we first started back in 1974, there was nothing else like it ... It got to be a problem to get a really good roster of talent, so we kind of laid off for a while," he told The Boot and other reporters before the show. "This is the biggest show, talent-wise, we have ever done ...
"When you stop to think about it," Daniels continues, "that we started this 40 years ago in the War Memorial Auditorium, and here we are, 40 years later, with the same name, doing the same type of show, it's pretty mind-boggling, actually. The only two things in my life that have been longer than Volunteer Jam is my band, which has been 42 years -- and my wife, which has been 51 years. So it's pretty gratifying, very humbling."
As if the massive lineup and Blackberry Smoke and Church's appearances, as well as a short appearance by Jamey Johnson, weren't enough, Lynyrd Skynyrd appeared at the end to close out the show. "Simple Man," Sweet Home Alabama" and more were played, and to say it was a grand finale would be an understatement. Daniels teased an appearance of the country rock band all evening, so when Skynyrd finally did appear, it wasn't necessarily a mind-blowing surprise, but it was an absolute highlight of the evening.
Each Volunteer Jam act was personally invited to perform by Daniels. And, as the Oak Ridge Boys pointed out, "You don't say no to Charlie Daniels."