By Staci Wuokko
CBS Radio’s second annual Stars and Strings concert – which took place last night (November 9) at the Chicago Theatre – was an evening that celebrated our veterans and their families with some of country music’s biggest names names. The event featured nine all-star artists and two additional unannounced surprised guests, making for one unforgettable night.
The chart-topping lineup consisted of acoustic tributes and shined light on Folds of Honor Foundation, which provides educational support to spouses and children of America’s fallen and wounded soldiers. (Learn more about Folds of Honor here.)
The patriotic show began with “The Star Spangled Banner,” sang by iconic Blackhawks anthem singer, Jim Cornelison. As always, he hit every note flawlessly while the crowd waved tiny flags. Shortly after, Chase Rice kicked things off with his hit “Ready, Set, Roll,” and was joined on stage by Dan + Shay, Big & Rich and Randy Houser.
Rice filled the crowd in on how he came up with his first single “Cruise,” and ended with his newest hit, “Everybody We Know Does.” “It’s important because it’s my life, it’s real,” he explained.
Dan + Shay seduced the audience by performing some of their most romantic songs, including “From the Ground Up,” “19 You + Me,” and “Nothin’ Like You.” “Thank you for your service,” they expressed to the veterans in the house. “We love you guys.”
Big & Rich brought the party vibe to the show, but the duo started things off on a slower note with “When I Look At You,” but kicked it up another notch singing “Save a Horse Ride A Cowboy.” After asking veterans to stand, they performed “God Bless America,” which lead to a united room chanting “U!S!A!”
“I think during a time where the country is divided, we can all agree we can take care of our veterans today,” added John Rich.
Randy Houser shared his personal experience visiting the military overseas in 2010. “It gives you a new appreciation,” he told the crowd. He strummed on his guitar and everyone sang along to “How Country Feels,” “Cowboy,” and “Boots On.”
Next on the lineup was Tyler Farr, who played his upbeat tune “A Guy Walks Into A Bar.” It was followed by a Chicago Cubs version of “Red Neck Crazy,” and “Our Town.”
“If anyone has served, man or woman, thank you all so much,” said Farr.
Farr had the honor of announcing the first surprise performer: Old Dominion. The band, who was all smiles and clearly happy to be there, played their hit “Snapback,” before singing “Break Up With Him,” and “Song For Another Time.”
After the surprise performance, Kelsea Ballerini got the crowd singing along to “Love Me Like You Mean It,” before showing her vulnerable side with “Peter Pan” and “High School.” Kelsea turned the latter song up a notch by adding bits of songs from One Republic, Justin Bieber and James Bay.
Next was the second unnannounced guest: Brett Eldredge, who stood in front of the crowd donning his hometown jersey – that of the World Champion Chicago Cubs. He began with “Beat of the Music,” followed by “Drunk on Your Love.” He showcased his latest single “Wanna Be That Song,” which had Cubs-related significance, since Eldredge filmed the music video at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Eldridge closed his part of the night with the World Series Winner’s anthem, “Go, Cubs, Go.”
After that, Jason Aldean was welcomed to the stage. With another guitarist by his side, he played acoustic versions of “My Kind of Party,” “A Little More Summertime,” “Tattoos on This Town,”and “Fly Over States.”
Switching from a solo act to a group, Rascal Flatts brought a new energy to the crowd with their oldie but goodie, “Fast Cars and Freedom.”
“Thank you so much for your sacrifice and service,” they said to the veterans and their families. “Without you we couldn’t do what we love to do.”
Last but certainly not least to hit the stage was Brantley Gilbert. He appropriately kicked things off with “Country Must Be Country Wide.” He moved things to a more serious tone, talking about a visit he took to Kuwait and tying it into his song “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do.”
Gilbert and Rascal Flatts ended the night with a tribute speech to veterans and their families. “I’m thankful that I live a country where people have given up their lives for us to [be able to] vote. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t begin to describe the gratitude we feel in our hearts to those who have put their lives on the lines,” said Jay DeMarcus.
Before he could finish, the crowd up roared once again chanting, “U!S!A!” Reminding us to always thank those who served and sacrificed and appreciate those who are home.
“It really hits you when you stand next to a soldier. You go back home and things look a little different. You hug your family and kids.” During this stressful time in our country, it’s a sentiment that everyone, on either side of the aisle, can agree on.