Alan Jackson fills Ryman benefit show with emotion, humor
Alan Jackson headlined the Stars Go Blue benefit concert for colon cancer at Ryman Auditorium Wednesday night. In doing so, Jackson raised enough money to fund the Colon Cancer Alliance’s Blue Note Fund for an entire year.
Following an introduction from his wife, Denise, Jackson kicked off his show with a video montage of his No. 1 hits.
“I know this evening is about a serious thing, but we’re going to try to have fun with it,” Jackson told the audience after throwing guitar picks and T-shirts into the crowd.
He played hits including “Gone Country,” “Small Town Southern Man,” “Little Bitty,” “Livin’ On Love,” “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) and “Don’t Rock the Juke Box.”
The always soft-spoken Jackson had anything but a subdued set. The singer brought three truckloads of gear with which to punctuate his show at the intimate venue. Jackson and his band were backed by three huge video screens and an assortment of lights.
The audience was out of their seats dancing after songs including “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” and shouted out requests after each song.
Jackson punctuated his set with personal stories and laughed that after “Here in the Real World” hit, he never had to work again. He said he “lived that dream” after playing “Chasin’ that Neon Rainbow.”
“I’m trying not to bring you all down, but like I said earlier, this is for a serious cause,” he said while introducing “When I Saw You Leaving,” a song he wrote following Denise’s cancer diagnosis that he included on his latest country album “Thirty Miles West.”
“It was a big deal when I went through this thing with Denise and her cancer. She’d never even had a headache, so the cancer was a shock. It brought out a lot of emotions … I didn’t want to do it for her for tonight, but she asked me, too. I can’t guarantee I’ll get through it and I haven’t sung it since I wrote it and recorded it.”
Jackson performed the song acoustically and made it through the song without breaking down, but was anxious to lighten the mood when he was finished.
“That’s as heavy as I’m going to get here,” he said before moving into “She’s Got the Rhythm (And I Got the Blues.)” Then he said, “I told Denise, ‘That’s going to be sad. At least let me do it at the end so I can leave the stage.’ But, she didn’t want that.”
Jackson slowed things back down with “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore” and “Remember When.” Then he got audience members two-stepping in the aisles to “Good Time,” bobbing their heads to “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” and on their feet clapping to “Chattahoochee,” the last song before the encore, “Where I Come From” and “Mercury Blues.”
In the two years since the Blue Note Fund was founded, more than $250,000 has been dispensed to help 800 families dealing with cancer.
“This is something we both felt strongly about,” Jackson said before the show, sitting beside Denise, who is a colorectal cancer survivor. “(Denise) asked me to sing for this thing, and the easiest thing I can do is walk out there and sing. It’s nice to have your music do something … and use your music to help a cause like this.”
“I just played on his heart a little bit,” Denise said about persuading her husband to play the show. “What that money will represent to (cancer patients) is a little bit of hope.”
At a reception Wednesday night, the Jacksons were honored with the Colon Cancer Alliance’s 2012-13 Visionary Award for their help with this year’s fundraiser.
In past years, the fundraiser was held at The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Charlie and Nan Kelley, cancer survivors and members of the Nashville music community who founded Stars Go Blue, said the event couldn’t have made the move to the Ryman without the help of the Jacksons.
“We’re grateful to know their presence here tonight will help so many people,” Charlie says.