It can’t be easy for an artist to perform at a sporting event. The audience is there to watch sports, not to sing along to a top 40 song. And it doesn’t help that the crowd often comes ready to boo — whether it’s directed at the referee, the opposing team or the halftime show. Just ask Ashlee Simpson or Michael Bolton.
But Darius Rucker, who will perform before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet Sunday, isn’t worried. As I’ve learned from interviewing the care-free South Carolina native multiple times, he doesn’t seem to worry about much.
“I’m good at what I do,” Rucker said over the phone last week. “I think people get booed because they suck. I did the Super Bowl pre-game in the ‘90s and sang the national anthem at the World Series and NBA games, and there were never any boos. I’ve done NASCAR events before and the crowd makes it so easy. Those are the people I’m trying to sell records to.”
Rucker’s target demographic has been country music fans ever since he reinvented himself with the 2008 solo album “Learn to Live.” Since crossing over to country, the former frontman for the wildly successful Hootie & the Blowfish has been opening on tour for some of the genre’s biggest acts, including Rascal Flatts and Brad Paisley.
Next month, Rucker will headline his own tour. It will mark the first time the 45-year-old singer headlines a tour since his days of singing “Hold My Hand” and “Let Her Cry” with Hootie.
“To have a second chance in this business — few people get that,” said Rucker, who will be supporting his 2010 album, “Charleston, SC 1966” on tour. “But I got another chance.” Was headlining his own tour one of Rucker’s goals when he went country? “My goal was to make a country record and maybe they would let me make another one,” Rucker said. “I just wanted to play. I make records for me. But to know people like them is pretty cool.”
In addition to Rucker, Chicagoland Speedway’s NASCAR weekend will include appearances by “Fast Five” co-stars Tyrese Gibson and Jordana Brewster, who will serve as the co-grand marshalls at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’s Fast Five 225 Friday, and a performance by Parachute following the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Dollar General 300 Saturday. The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus will perform following Sunday’s Geico 400.
Who does Rucker predict will win Sunday’s race?
“I’m a huge Jimmie Johnson guy,” Rucker said of the four-time Driver of the Year winner, admitting it’s the easy pick for multiple reasons. “We’re buddies.”