For Darius Rucker, the CMA Music Festival is not only a chance to hang out with fans for a week, it also serves as a reminder that he is one. "When you're on the road a lot, you don't get to see a lot of shows. I still remember the first CMA event I came to with Brooks & Dunn. I started freaking out. I have to play after these guys? I love that the fans are so close to you."
One legendary artist that Rucker admits has a special place in his heart is Kenny Rogers, who performed at Rucker's "Darius & Friends" benefit for St. Jude Childrens' Research Hospital at the Wildhorse Saloon. He even went as far as saying he owes his spot on the charts to the Country Music Hall of Famer.
"If it wasn't for Kenny Rogers, I don't think I would be in country music. He was that guy when I was a kid - his music and 'Hee Haw' made me perk my ears up and made me say 'What is this? I want to hear more of that.' He was that catalyst for me to start this whole run in country music. You didn't just hear him on the country station, but you would hear him on the pop stations. He's a legend. The fact that I've been asked to sing with him at the CMA's, and I got invited to sing at this Hall of Fame induction. They asked me to sing 'Lucille.' That's just crazy. He's become a good friend. I'm proud to know him, and proud to have been able to sing with them."
Rucker spoke to the media during the CMA press conference at LP Field on Saturday night – as the show started late due to rain and lightning. Rucker says he admires how nights like that doesn't seem to affect the mindset of the fans one bit. "That's one thing I've found the past six or seven years is how dedicated the fans really are. I love that. It seems that with other kind of music, they are looking for the next big thing, but with country music, they might be looking for that, but they also want to have that warm blanket that helped them through that relationship or that singer they have always loved. I remember playing on tour about three years ago with Rascal Flatts. There was a three hour rain delay with thunder and lightning and everything. It was really bad. They had to clear all the fans out. We were sitting there on the bus, and thinking that there wouldn't be anyone here when we played. I'll never forget standing on that stage and seeing that whole stadium full. They plan their year around this week. They're going to take everything in. I love being part of that."
Rucker is preparing his fourth album for Capitol, and rumor has it there may be some more traditional sounds on the disc, similar to his chart-topping "Wagon Wheel." He says the song proved there is an audience for that sound. "We proved that you can go to the other end and have a big hit in country music. We're working on a lot of stuff. We're still up in the air with what the basis of it is going to be, but we're recording as many songs as we can. Then, we'll put together a record, and hopefully people will like it. But, 'Wagon Wheel' was definitely the catalyst for that thought.'
On the other end of the spectrum, there is his participation in the "Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Motley Crue" album, due Aug. 9 on Big Machine. Rucker said he was blown away just being asked to participate. "I've known the Crue guys a long time -especially Nikki. I can't believe that people ask me to do stuff like that. When you're doing a Motley Crue tribute record, you can ask anyone to do it, and they're not going to say no. They asked me if I would do 'Time For Change,' and I listened to it with Frank Rogers, and he said 'You can't sing like that, bro.' We pretended like we didn't know it, and came up with something I'm really proud of. Frank did an amazing job. I just can't wait for people to hear it."