Country stars young and old draw ovations at Guitar Pull

For several years, WKXC-FM program director Tee Gentry resisted moving the annual Million Pennies For Kids Guitar Pull to James Brown Arena, even though the show was sold out within minutes every year.


He told me over and over again that he didn't want to lose the intimacy of the acoustic event with the fans being up close and personal with the guest stars -- some of the best known names in country music.

And, in regard to promotion of the radio station and the success of the event, he wanted to keep the Guitar Pull as one of the hardest-to-get tickets.

So the event grew in spite of itself: first to Sacred Heart Cultural Center, then to the Imperial Theatre, then to Bell Auditorium and then to the University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center.

For whatever reasons, Gentry conceded that the James Brown Arena might be the right spot after all, and that's where the 12th annual Guitar Pull was held on Nov. 16.

But, as a compromise, Gentry kept the available seats to only about 70 more than the Aiken location by blocking off the arena's upper rows.

The roughly 4,000 fans seemed to be happy with the new location; the WKXC-FM staff seemed to adapt rapidly to the new venue; and Gentry seemed happy with how everything was going.

He told me at intermission that -- while WKXC enjoyed the three years at the Aiken facility -- he expects the 13th annual Guitar Pull in 2011 to return to James Brown Arena.

"We're looking at it as a lucky 13," he said with a smile.

For many country music fans, the 12th annual event is going to be mighty difficult to top.

It was a great night of music and overall family fun in spite of the fight that broke out when the guest cast was singing David Allan Coe's You Never Even Called Me By My Name, the very last number.

Apparently, one guy objected to another guy in the area using some obscenity around nearby kids, and that led to a brawl that lasted several minutes before police broke it up.

Bluegrass-turned-country star Vince Gill was a huge hit.

He told the audience he felt old (at 53) with most of the other guest artists and so he wanted to open his part of the evening by singing "an old song."

He then launched into his 1990 hit single When I Call Your Name in his flawless, tenor voice. The audience was mesmerized and responded with a standing ovation.

His rendition of Go Rest High on That Mountain , which he wrote in tribute to his late brother, was absolutely beautiful and drew another standing ovation.

Native Georgian Jason Aldean, who had rushed to Augusta on a "red eye flight" after performing live on Jimmy Kimmel's TV show in Hollywood the night before, had to follow Gill in the show's order each go-round.

"Do you have any songs that weren't hits?" he asked Gill after the second standing ovation. "Could you play that next time around?"

Aldean certainly was no slouch either; opening with his new single My Kinda Party and following it with other hits, including the tongue-twisting number She's Country .

Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry, who at present are not signed to a record label, fired the crowd up and had almost the entire audience singing along to their hits Back When I Knew It All, What Do Ya Think About That? and One in Every Crowd .

Easton Corbin charmed the crowd with his first No. 1 hit single, A Little More Country Than That, and his just-released single, I Can't Love You Back .

South Carolinian Darius Rucker earned huge applause with his offerings, including Come Back Song and Let Her Cry but also earned huge boos when he came out onstage and put on a University of South Carolina Gamecocks red ball cap.

The newest act on the show -- The Band Perry from Knoxville, Tenn. -- held its own with the established stars.

Lead vocalist Kimberly Perry, 26, and her 19-year-old brother, Neil, and 21-year-old brother, Reid, had the audience rocking with their songs Hip to the Heart and Sugar, Sugar .

Although she was not on the official lineup, 12-year-old Jaycie Ward of Beech Island had both the audience and guest stars in awe with her fifth Guitar Pull performance of the national anthem.

When she came backstage after her rendition, Aldean gave her a "high five" and said simply, "Awesome!"

It was a good beginning to a great evening of memorable music, with the proceeds going to a good cause: helping needy kids at Christmas.