Graduation season is here, and so is Charlie Daniels. But Charlie Daniels isn't speaking at any graduations this year.
Maybe that's a good thing.
The country rock veteran, who will play Lake Olmstead Stadium on Saturday night with the Marshall Tucker Band, agreed last year to give a commencement address. As a reward, he found himself being referred to as a "goober-brained redneck" and a "one-hit wonder."
All in his hometown of Wilmington, N.C.
Mr. Daniels had been asked for many years to speak at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington's graduation ceremony, and in 1996 he finally agreed.
Some students objected, saying they wanted a speaker with more academic credentials. They weren't impressed with Mr. Daniels' having sold 16 million albums, toured the world, performed at Jimmy Carter's inauguration and crafted, in The Devil Went Down to Georgia, one of the most popular country songs ever. The students wrote letters to the school newspaper, and that's when the insults began.
But the controversy turned out to be helpful, Mr. Daniels said, because he worked extra hard on the speech. The university's president lightened the mood by wearing Mr. Daniels' cowboy hat during the march into the auditorium, which started the ceremony off with a laugh.
Mr. Daniels, wearing a mortarboard, gave a blunt, homespun speech, telling students that if they wanted better things out of life they needed to work hard.
"That's what I would want to hear," Mr. Daniels said in phone interview from Denison, Texas, where he was getting ready to perform. "I would want somebody to speak about practical things."
Mr. Daniels said he doesn't think of himself as a confrontational guy, even though many of his best-known songs are about some showdown, or speak plainly on some issue. He just writes about what's on his mind. He doesn't seek confrontation, but he doesn't avoid it, either.
In recent years, Mr. Daniels has drawn attention for his gospel work, collecting gospel Grammy nominations in 1995 and 1997 for his albums The Door and Steel Witness, respectively.
Despite the success of the gospel records, the shows go as they always have, he said.
"I don't think it's changed the audiences at all," Mr. Daniels said. "We've always done gospel in the shows for many years."
Mr. Daniels has been coming to this area for decades. Once, in the early 1970s, his tour bus got stuck in the mud at Beech Island and had to be pulled out.
This will make the third straight year he has played in the Aiken-Augusta area. In October he and Martina McBride played the Aiken Jaycee County Fair, and in August 1995 he and Travis Tritt played the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center. This show benefits the Augusta chapter of the American Red Cross.
The veteran plays about 130 shows a year. He keeps up such a busy schedule because he likes it, and he has a big road crew that's been with him a long time.
"I got a bunch of people that depend on me for a living," he said. "Of course, I have to make a living, too."
What: Red Cross Hot Country Night with the Charlie Daniels Band and Marshall Tucker Band.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Lake Olmstead Stadium, 80 Milledge Road
How much: $10 in advance and $15 at the gate. Children 12 and younger accompanied by an adult get in for $5. Tickets are available at Smile gas stations, Home Folks records, Hardy Lumber Co. and the Augusta Red Cross office.