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Darius Rucker’s Starting Fires Tour at the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at Freedom Hill

Darius Rucker performs 8/10/23 © John Swider

Sterling Heights,Michigan (Aug 10,2023)-Darius Rucker’s “Starting Fires” tour blazed through the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at Freedom Hill , leaving a trail of musical brilliance and unforgettable moments. With over 4 decades as a musical artist behind him, Rucker has racked up a multitude of top 10 hits with his friendly voice and reflective songs that have resonated with audiences worldwide. But tonight it was his country side and the plethora of recent hits that brought the age diverse crowd out in droves, looking to have good time and hear some country music.

“Have a Good Time,” his latest single, was an appropriate show opener and mantra throughout the evening. It is also pretty much what also happens any time Rucker hits a stage, on his own or with his previous band, Hootie & the Blowfish. His one hour-and-45-minute Starting Fires Tour stop on Thursday certainly held true to the opening selection. A good time has indeed become a dependable result any time Rucker performs, and his laid-back T-shirt casualness and 1000-watt smile won the capacity crowd over from the moment Rucker walked onstage to the taped, mood setting strains of the Ohio Players’ “Fire.”

Rucker is one of only a few artists who have managed to bridge the pop and country divide with platinum results on both sides of the aisle and prove to the purists that the two can certainly coexist over the course of a 25 song concert. He told the crowd early on that, “If it’s alright with you, Detroit, we’re gonna play some country music” but overall the evening was much more musically complex than that simple statement.  Thursday’s show effortlessly melded together everything he does, from country hits to his “Hootie side” with a few surprises tossed in for measure that reflected on the broad tastes of a the current day music fan.

Darius Rucker performs 8/10/23 © John Swider

Early on in the set Rucker and his six-member Carolina Grey Boys band dug into John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses,” with twangy dobro accents. Later, about halfway through he announced that “Me and the band decided this is the summer of the 90s,” launching into a genre-jumping medley sing along of Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It,” TLC’s “Waterfalls” and Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison.”

There were, of course, Hootie moments too, including an emotive “Let Her Cry” and extended, countrified versions of “Hold My Hand” and “Only Wanna Be With You” that let band members such as multi-instrumentalist Gary Murray and lead guitarist Quinton Gibson “stretch their legs” to the shear delight of the appreciative fans. Amidst all that was Rucker’s own material, samplings from five of his solo albums and a  glimpse into the upcoming “Carolyn’s Boy” (out October 6) with a couple afore mentioned singles “Fires Don’t Start Themselves” as well as “Have a Good Time.

But The Starting Fires tour was not just about music; it was a celebration of life’s moments, both big and small. Rucker’s storytelling prowess shone through as he introduced songs like “It Won’t Be Like This for Long,” sharing anecdotes and personal reflections that resonated deeply with fans. His ability to infuse each lyric with raw emotion is a testament to his prowess as a multi-genre performer.

Darius Rucker performs 8/10/23 © John Swider

Rucker was at his absolute best as he performed “History in the Making” accompanied only by piano while also populating the evenings setlist with more than 20 years of his biggest country hits, including “Alright,” “Come Back Song,” “Radio,” “For the First Time” and “True Believers.” Well-received opening act Drew Holcomb also joined Rucker for a duet on “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.”

Rucker shouted out “If I Told You” as one of his favorite songs, both before and after his performance and he lamented that the sensual “Hands on Me” from his 2017 album, “When Was the Last Time,” was never released as a single. “Homegrown Honey,” meanwhile, morphed into the Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music” as Rucker’s walk-off music at the end of the main set.

But it was the final encore that truly set Ruckers performance apart. As the band returned to the stage for a final musical flourish, the opening notes of “Valerie” filled the air, an unexpected yet thrilling choice that once agin highlighted Rucker’s versatility. The soulful rendition was infused with Rucker’s unique charm, breathing new life into the classic tune.”Hands on Me” followed, its upbeat rhythm and beat segueing into a cover of  Blackstreet’s R&B hit “No Diggity,” which by itself was a delightful surprise and a fitting ending to a performance of this caliber. But Rucker wasn’t done just yet and cut loose on his biggest hit to date, a  scintillating take on Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” a unique genre bending pairing you’re not going to find anywhere — except maybe at one of his shows.

It was extraordinary night of listening to music without boundaries and Darius Rucker continues to, as the song title clearly states “Have a Good Time,” on a regular basis.

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