Two-time cancer survivor and veteran country chart-topper Wade Hayes is recruiting pals Miranda Lambert, Steve Wariner and Kix Brooks for the inaugural Country Hits Back, a benefit concert for Nashville’s Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.
“This is a huge lineup and we’re literally just about sold out,” Hayes tells Billboard of the March 2 show, taking place at the historic Franklin Theatre outside Nashville. “We’re hoping to raise a good chunk of money for the oncology department at Vanderbilt.”
Hayes’ oncologist, Dr. Jordan Berlin, M.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and co-director of the GI Oncology Program, asked for his help in raising funds for cancer research and Hayes was happy to oblige. He began calling on friends he knew would be interested in supporting the cause.
“Miranda had called me last year and talked to me about her guitar player who had cancer. She asked me if I could help her get him to the right people at Vanderbilt and I got her with Dr. Berlin,” Hayes says. “He helped her get to the right people. Her guitar player [Scotty Wray] made it through and is now doing just fine. Miranda told me if there was anything that she could ever do to repay me for helping her don’t hesitate to call, so I took her up on it.”
Hayes, known for such hits as “Old Enough to Know Better,” “I’m Still Dancin’ With You,” “Don’t Stop” and “What I Meant to Say,” was diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer in December 2011 at age 42.
“Kix Brooks is responsible for getting me involved with Vanderbilt to begin with, and I feel like I partially owe him my life,” Hayes says. “If I had been anywhere else I feel like I probably wouldn’t have had near the results that I had with Vanderbilt, because Dr. Berlin told me that he had to actually talk them into doing surgery.”
Brooks is happy to be participating in Country Hits Back. “Seems like yesterday I got a call that Wade had stage IV colon cancer,” Brooks recalls. “I sat back in my chair and said, ‘No way! He may have stage IV colon cancer, but he’s gonna make it. I know Wade too well, he’s too strong and too determined of an individual, and I know where he can get the best care that medicine has to give.’”
It’s a war that Hayes has fought twice. After beating the disease through extensive surgery and chemotherapy, it came back again a year later. At one point, he was only given a 12 percent chance of survival. These days, he’s healthy and touring in support of his current album, Go Live Your Life. The title track was inspired by a conversation he had with Dr. Berlin.
“When I’d gotten through cancer the second time, my oncologist said, ‘Wade, you were stage IV and now you’re cancer free. I want you to go live your life,’” Hayes recalls. “It hit me like a ton of bricks because I knew that he meant two different things: one being, it’s kind of a miracle that you’re still here. You need to go enjoy your life. And two being, you had cancer really bad, and when it spread as far as it did, there’s a good chance that it can come back. He was telling me to go live my life, because we don’t know how long this good is going to be. I told Bobby Pinson that story and we wrote the song.”
Hayes is excited about the upcoming concert. Each act will do their own set, and Hayes says there will likely also be some collaborating among artists. He’s looking forward to trading guitar licks with Wariner, and the feeling is mutual.
“I was like every other country music artist when Wade was going through all that stuff. Collectively everyone in country music was on the edge of their seats and praying for him. This whole town was doing that,” Wariner says. “Everyone was pulling for Wade so much because everybody loves him. That’s what’s cool about this event because it’s after his comeback — two comebacks actually. This is the icing.”
Hayes appreciates the support. “I want to thank people so much for their prayers. There was a time that I was too beat up to even pray for myself,” he says. “I know why I’m still here. It’s the prayers that worked and I’m so thankful for all of the people that have helped me and supported me.”
For those unable to attend the benefit, donations can be mailed to Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center, 2525 West End Ave., Nashville, TN 37205 or online at vicc.org.