“I was born with a heart with a beat like a rolling stone Never did I realize where I was supposed to belong I never knew what I was meant to do I never made sense to me 'til I made sense to you …” — Darius Rucker, "My Masterpiece"
Country superstar Darius Rucker might be crooning about amore in his hit song, “My Masterpiece,” but these words could easily apply to another love of his: a live audience. When the pandemic prompted inevitable show cancellations in 2020, it wasn’t just a blow for fans—musicians were feeling the loss, too. As the festival circuit shut down, it left a significant void in Rucker’s world. After all, it was through festival performances as front man for Hootie and the Blowfish that he first connected with audiences and forged his identity as a musical artist. So, when he and his current band once again commanded the stage at the 2021 Carolina Country Music Fest, it was one of the most memorable moments of his career.
“Man, when we hit that stage in Myrtle Beach, it was like a weight was lifted up off our shoulders because it was the longest any of us had ever gone without playing to a live audience,” he said. “You know, I hadn’t gone two months without playing probably since I was about 19 or 20, so it was such a relief.”
Rucker was a late bloomer of sorts when it came to festival experiences. Surprisingly, the man who would one day headline some of the country’s biggest music fests never found himself in the festival audience while growing up. “The first music festival I attended was one I played with Hootie and the Blowfish at Five Points in Columbia,” he remembered. “Those early festivals, especially the big ones, were special. It was something we wanted to do again because the crowds were so fun and great.”
Here’s something else that’s great: the return of music festivals across the Palmetto State. Organizers have been busy securing entertainment, recruiting vendors and tweaking protocol strategies to ensure a safe environment as music lovers gather to celebrate the world’s most universal language. Here are some of Rucker’s favorite fests guaranteed to make fans and musicians feel like they are finally back where they belong.
The Greenville Country Music Fest in Simpsonville has only been around since 2019, but it quickly evolved into an end-of-summer ritual for music lovers across the Carolinas. The vibe is loose and giddy with musical acts doing their thing on multiple stages as fans move to the tunes, take on the mechanical bull, throw a few axes and otherwise have a whole lot of fun—all to a spirited, live country music soundtrack.
Strains of jazz, blues, rock, country and bluegrass fill the air when Bank of America Fall for Greenville cranks up each autumn in downtown Greenville. The three-day event, established in 1982, has exploded to become one of the biggest and best free festivals in the Southeast with more than 200,000 attendees, caboodles of local food vendors and dozens of musical acts. With the Blue Ridge foothills looming in the distance, this festival beckons all to immerse themselves in music, fun and fall.
Order up some fried cookie dough and revel in the live entertainment during the 12-day South Carolina State Fair extravaganza in Columbia. After the pandemic necessitated a 2020 drive-thru set-up, organizers were thrilled to return to a more traditional event in 2021. Amid the amusements, exhibits and attractions, musical artists shore up the schedule of events with both staged and roving performances. Headline acts over the years have run the gamut from Sugarland to the Doobie Brothers to Gladys Knight and, of course, Darius Rucker. Grab the family and experience all the music, fun and food at this highly anticipated October tradition.
The Pee Dee town of Cheraw where jazz great Dizzy Gillespie was born in 1917 pays tribute to its legendary native son with the vibrant South Carolina Jazz Festival. On the third weekend of October, award-winning artists give memorable concerts for jazz-loving audiences who come from across the Carolinas to experience world-renowned performances and some small-town charm. Come celebrate an American icon.
In North Myrtle Beach, the charitable Hootie & The Blowfish Monday After the Masters, hosted by Hootie and the Blowfish, honors two great South Carolina traditions: golf and music. The annual celebrity Pro-Am golf tournament happens on the Monday after the Masters Tournament—hence the nickname, MAM—and culminates with a festive concert headlined by Hootie and the Blowfish. An avid golfer, Rucker and the rest of the band really get behind this philanthropic effort, which has raised millions of dollars to support golf and educational programs for kids in South Carolina. Join in the fun April 2022.
Charleston’s premiere arts festival, Spoleto Festival USA, unfurls a host of musical performances as part of its 17-day run each spring. This year will mark its 46th season, which will once again be brimming with world-class musical entertainment performed in churches, theaters and outdoor venues across the historic city. Symphonic, choral, opera, bluegrass, blues, jazz and more are part of this remarkable expression of musical diversity presented against the magical backdrop of the Holy City.
With acres of coastline, five stages and more than 30 musical acts, the Carolina Country Music Fest in Myrtle Beach is sweeping in scope. Introduced in 2015, this outdoor music festival celebrates the phenomenon that is country music for three high-energy days in June. The rousing beach party draws the crowds, with more than 35,000 revelers coming to Myrtle Beach in 2021 for a sold-out festival. It turned out to be the perfect cure for Rucker’s pandemic blues.
“The crowd and the love and energy they were giving back and giving to each other was just beautiful,” said Rucker about retaking the festival stage. “I can see it in my head right now, and it was awesome to be doing it right here at home in South Carolina.”