South Carolina musician Darius Rucker always plays well in Augusta.
Best known for his work with Hootie and the Blowfish, and his successful string of country records, Rucker has made playing Rock Fore! Dough, a fundraiser for First Tee of Augusta, something of a spring ritual. His performances – which have included everything from impromptu Led Zeppelin covers to guest appearances by guests such as R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and pro gold John Daley – have proved popular with fans.
But this year, Rucker said, might be different. It all depends on basketball.
Rucker, who grew up in Charleston and attended the University of South Carolina, has been following the Gamecocks’ NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament run with increasing interest. On March 24, flanked by fellow Hootie member Mark Bryan, he watched USC beat Baylor while performing for a fairly sympathetic crowd in Charleston, the televisions tucked discreetly between the band’s onstage monitors.
“We were so happy,” he said with a laugh. “Happy and lucky that it wasn’t even close. That could have been a real distraction.”
On March 26, he and Bryan took courtside seats, watching as the Gamecocks beat favored Florida in Madison Square Garden. His response was akin to a young fan seeing a favorite musician perform for the first time.
“That’s a great way to describe it,” Rucker said. “That’s how I felt – like at 14-year-old girl at a Jonas Brothers concert. It really kind of surprised me.”
Later, video would surface online of a clearly overwhelmed Rucker, his eyes full of tears, celebrating the victory. He admitted those raw emotions were something of a surprise.
“I didn’t think that would happen,” he said. “It was just a reaction to it all.”
Rucker has said he’s prepared to follow the team, now in the tournament’s Final Four, all the way – cancelling concerts if need be. Fortunately, Augusta fans need not worry. USC plays No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday in Phoenix and, if victorious, will play for the national championship Monday against either North Carolina or Oregon.
And what can the Augusta audience expect if South Carolina continues its run and wins the championship?
“If we win it all, Augusta may be the greatest performance of my life,” Rucker said.