It was one for the books at Charlie Daniels 80th Birthday Volunteer Jam at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday night. The fiddle-playing country star and a handful of superstar guests, including Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Travis Tritt, Kid Rock, 3 Doors Down and Larry the Cable Guy were all on hand to celebrate Daniels’ monumental birthday and contribute to a passion dear to his heart. The concert serves as a benefit for The Journey Home Project, an organization that works to help veterans returning home from war receive the care and resources they need.
The Volunteer Jam got its start more than 40 years ago, with its first show at the War Memorial Auditorium. The event has now grown to Bridgetsone Arena, where Daniels revealed backstage before the show that 2016 would be “the biggest Jam we’ve ever done,” selling roughly 15,000 tickets.
To say the show was a success would be an understatement. Daniels lit up the stage for a nearly two-hour set that included tons of signature songs, plenty of famous friends and tribute to our nation’s military members and veterans. Just some of the songs he performed include “Long Haired Country Boy” (where he was joined by Kid Rock, who added a few of his own lyrics, complete with a mic drop), “The Legend of the Wooley Swamp” and “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” the latter of which allowed him to rock out on the fiddle.
One of the sweetest surprises of the night came when Randy Travis came on stage to help present Daniels with Rare Country’s Humanitarian of the Year award for his service to our veterans and the crowd immediately sprang from its seat when Travis arrived on stage.
Later in the evening, the singer was joined by an all-star jam featuring each of the night’s performers. Byran took the stage to sing Daniels’ signature hit, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” much to the excitement of the crowd. The song was an appropriate fit, as Bryan is a native of the sate, telling a humorous story of the song in a backstage press conference before the show. “Being a kid from Georgia and wondering why the devil come down here, kind of scared me as a kid a little bit,” he said with a laugh, adding that he’s “honored” to be a part of anything associated with the “Devil” singer.
Bryan was the last opening act of the night before Daniels took the stage, opening with one of his earliest hits, “Rain is a Good Thing.” He followed it up with yet another hit, “Play it Again,” and asked the audience to “close our eyes and go there together” as he painted a serene image of nature on “Huntin,’ Fishin,’ and Lovin’ Every Day.” He closed his set with the upbeat “Move” and had the audience hip-swiveling right along with him.
Chris Stapleton received roaring applause from the crowd when he came on stage donning his signature cowboy hat. His impressive guitar skills coupled with his edgy country-rock sound kept the audience engaged. “That was fun,” he said after opening with “Outlaw State of Mind” from his breakthrough album Traveller and had guests singing along with him to “The Devil Named Music.” He also echoed the positive sentiments of Bryan’s, calling Daniels “a huge hero of mine” before the show, saying that “It means a lot to me to be here today.”
Daniels’ close friend Travis Tritt was also met with thunderous applause as he made his way to the stage. “I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be,” he said humbly. A highlight of his set came when he introduced daughter Tyler Reese to perform a song they wrote together, “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough.” The crowd erupted once again when they heard the opening chords of “Here’s a Quarter” and continued through his closing number, the No. 1 hit “It’s a Great Day to be Alive.”
“Charlie taught me from the very beginning about what it means to have the privilege to be able to be in this business…He took me under his wing from the very beginning and he and I have been such close friends ever since then,” Tritt praised of his friend backstage, also citing him as a “hero.”
Kid Rock kept the energy going, particular when he launched to one of his signature songs, ”All Summer Long,” that had everyone singing along to the familiar track. Larry the Cable Guy brought a host of laughs with jokes about everything from the Zika virus to self-deprecating humor about “putting on weight” to do voiceover work for Cars 3 and saying that the last time he was in Tennessee, the governor presented him with a key to 24 Hour Fitness.
“You think Charlie Daniels, you think of America,” the comedian said of the singer. “I love everything he stands for, I love his music, and when I got the call to come do this, it was no hesitation..If Charlie Daniels calls, you gotta be there.” 3 Doors Down also performed a standout set, delighting fans with a string a hits including “It’s Not my Time,” “When I’m Gone” and “Here Without You.”
It’s safe to say that based on this year’s success, and the many ones prior, that Daniels and his friends will be jamming for years to come.