Darius Rucker, an artist who has won three Grammys, sold millions of albums and released iconic top chart hits, answered the phone with “hey, it’s Darius.”
As casual as he sounds, Rucker is one of the most famous artists to come out of South Carolina, and is an avid Gamecock fan. He'll return to his alma mater on April 24 to perform a student-only concert at Colonial Life Arena.
The concert comes after a back and forth on Twitter where Rucker said he would play at the Horseshoe if the women’s basketball team won the national championship. Watching them that night, he said, he couldn’t wait to play.
Rucker watched the game on TV from the side of a stage in Augusta, Georgia for a gig he was performing at. He only got to watch the first three quarters, but he said he didn’t mind.
“By then, it was really a forgone conclusion,” Rucker said.
Rucker said he is most looking forward to playing and celebrating the team — and the "dynasty that Dawn Staley is building in Columbia” — but also the fans.
“I mean, the love is going to be there for them,” Rucker said. “But I’m looking forward to just the love of being a Gamecock, that’s what that room is going to be about. You chose to go to the University of South Carolina, and it means everything to me. And we just won the national championship so the students should get to have a party, and I want to be a part of that party,” Rucker said.
Rucker got his start at USC after getting noticed for his voice by a roommate while singing in the shower of a USC dorm. This led to the formation and success of Hootie & The Blowfish.
“I have a million memories of USC,” Rucker said. “It was the best time of my life.”
Memories like his freshman year when USC football was number two in the country, meeting “the guys” or his first rehearsal in the honeycombs.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Rucker said. “Making a bunch of noise in that little dorm room and annoying people — USC was such an important part of my life.”
Rucker said he wished the concert was on the Horseshoe or at Williams-Brice Stadium so more people could come, but he said he thinks the “university is great” and Colonial Life Arena makes sense.
Rucker said he was sitting around thinking about the fact that the women’s team worked so hard, and he wanted to provide more than just hear his rock and roll country music.
“So, I call up Nelly and say ‘Hey man, would you do it?’ and he said ‘I ain’t doing nothing,’ and I was like ‘come play’ and he was like ‘alright man,’ so that was pretty cool,” Rucker said.
The two friends have played a bit together. Nelly, a popular American rapper, has been confirmed as the opening act for the concert.
Most concerts like this are planned weeks or months in advance, said Sid Kenyon, the general manager of Colonial Life arena. It took lots of phone calls, texts and emails for the concert to be pulled together.
The concert coordinators had to match Rucker’s schedule with the increasingly busy calendar of Dawn Staley and the women’s basketball team after the championship, all before finals for the students. There was also the packed schedule of the Arena — with the Gamecock Gala, Elton John, University Award’s Day and the Spring Jam Concert all playing around the same time as Rucker, on top of figuring out ticketing, entry and equipment.
“I can remember when I was undergrad, if I had a choice between study for a final or going to a concert, I might not made the smart choice,” Kenyon joked about working to have the concert before finals.
Kenyon said student demand was so high, they wouldn’t be able to handle any extra attendance.
“It's kind of neat that the last time he played here, he was playing with Hootie & The Blowfish. And they did three sold out concerts, on three consecutive nights. And here, even though we're not selling tickets, in essence, he's doing a fourth sold out show in a row here at CLA,” Kenyon said.
Kenyon said it wouldn’t surprise him if upwards of 12,000 students end up at the event.
Another reason for the concert was Rucker’s relationship with interim university President Harris Pastides.
Pastides said the two talked previously about a potential concert to honor Pastides’ last semester, but with the championship, they wanted to wait to celebrate the Gamecocks instead.
“We’re not bosom buddies, if you will, but we’re friends,” Pastides said. “We know each other. He’s one of the most prominent Gamecocks on the planet, brings goodwill to the Gamecock nation. So, I know him in that capacity.”
Pastides said he thinks Rucker and the potential for a concert is a reason some may consider going to USC.
“The fact that it is happening during a time where a lot of admitted students are deciding where to go to college — I believe we will even see an enrollment bump as a result of the concert,” Pastides said.
Besides the performance, Rucker also offered some advice to Gamecocks on campus.
“Keep having fun. Do what you gotta do, work hard, and be a great student and everything, but have fun. I don’t remember that English class I had at USC, but boy, I remember those Friday nights down at Five Points,” Rucker said.
He only wants fans to know one thing ahead of Sunday’s performance.
“Let’s have some fun,” Rucker said.
Editor's note: Kailey Cota contributed to the reporting seen in this story.