Massive country roster gives stunning military salute at CBS Radio’s “Stars And Strings”

Photos by Daniel DeSlover

The third annual “Stars And Strings” concert, a benefit to help support Folds of Honor, filled the historic Chicago Theatre on Wednesday. CBS Radio brought country veterans Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Lady Antebellum and Chris Young, along with upstarts Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini, for an acoustic show that included some light-hearted banter between songs. Canadian country-rocker Lindsay Ell opened the show, adding a burst of electric guitar to ignite the crowd.

Folds of Honor is a non-profit organization that assists children and spouses of America’s fallen and disabled service members via educational scholarships. Each patron entered the venue to find a small American flag on their seat, a touching symbolic tribute to this Veteran’s Day celebration. Kelsea Ballerini was joined by Chris Young and Brad Paisley for the first of two sets. The artists, seated on stools along the edge of the stage, took turns performing stripped down versions of their songs.

Ballerini began with “Love Me Like You Mean It” and later showcased her vocal talents with single-verse snippets of Keith Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color” and Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” before dedicating the lead single (“Legends”) from her latest album, “Unapologetically,” to service members. Chris Young also recently released a project, “Losing Sleep,” and performed the title-track from the album, along with his first #1 single, “Gettin’ You Home,” plus “Aw Naw” and “I’m Comin’ Over.”

Always the jokester, Paisley didn’t miss any opportunity to take a stab at his stage-mates Ballerini and Young. He mixed the verses on his opening song, “This Is Country Music,” and an astute fan hummed “Nationwide Is On Your Side” when Paisley took a second to pause, eliciting a chuckle and shout-out from the perpetual CMA host. He also got the crowd laughing during the jocular “You’ll Always Be My First (Cousin).” One of the better guitarists on the country circuit, he was the only performer on the night that didn’t rely on any support from backing musicians.

There was a distinct change in vibe between the first and second half of the concert. Whether it was due to a round of drinks enjoyed during intermission, or the ability of Darius Rucker to connect with the audience when he took the stage to perform “Alright,” but he immediately had a large contingent of fans on their feet.

Lady Antebellum and Sam Hunt soon joined him on stage and the trio of artists had the crowd dancing for the better part of the second set. If there was one song that belonged in the show, it was Rucker’s mightiest single to date, “Wagon Wheel.” The recording features Lady Antebellum on backing vocals and they did the song justice in this acoustic setting.

An obvious camaraderie between Rucker and the members of Lady A helped bring a comfortable tone to the stage, though they worked together to tag-team and tease Sam Hunt prior to each of his songs. The pop-country star had the last laugh given the immense response of the audience that sang and dance to his music. Energetic hits “Body Like a Backroad,” “Break Up In A Small Town” and “House Party” all did their part to free the audience of any inhibitions to move their body.

Not that Hunt upstaged the others. He mentioned that “Come Over” took influence from Lady A’s “Need You Now,” which they graciously performed to end the set. However, even after the house lights returned, Charles Kelley coerced the rest of his bandmates, along with Sam Hunt’s crew to return to the stage.

Kelley convinced Rucker that he had to do a reprise of the song that opened this year’s CMA Award show, Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Hold My Hand.” The entire group of artists from the second set performed it together for a raucous finish and supreme highlight in a jam-packed evening enhanced by its higher purpose.

Click here for more photos of “Stars And Strings” at the Chicago Theatre.

For additional information on “Stars And Strings,” visit

Upcoming concert highlights at the Chicago Theatre include The String Cheese Incident (Nov. 24-25; Evanescence (Nov. 30); Pentatonix (Dec. 3-5); Lindsey Stirling (Dec. 6); Celtic Thunder (Dec. 7); Dave Koz & Friends (Dec. 9) and Spoon (Dec. 10). For additional details, visit