On Veterans Day, November 11, 2015, CBS Radio and US99.5 hosted the first ever Stars and Strings event, at the Chicago Theatre. Presented by the United Association’s Veterans in Piping Program, which offers returning veterans a career in the Union Pipe Trades. Additionally, a portion of the proceeds from Stars and Strings will benefit Folds of Honor, which provides educational support to spouses and children of America’s fallen and wounded soldiers. The star studded lineup featured Dierks Bentley, Chris Young, Gary Allan, Hunter Hayes, Jake Owen, Jerrod Niemann, Justin Moore, Kip Moore, Lee Brice, Little Big Town, The Band Perry, and a couple surprise guests!
This stripped down event kicked off with the National Anthem, and led right into a stripped-down acoustic songwriters round set-up with Justin Moore, Lee Brice, and Jerrod Niemann. Each artist performed three heartfelt songs, including No. 1 hits “Drinking Class,” “Lover, Lover,” and “Point At You.” They kept a light-hearted attitude, cracking jokes like Brice saying, “We all started as songwriters, but heck if we can remember half of what we wrote sometimes when we have to play it in front of a crowd!” Many laughs were shared, as well as sentimental feelings during songs like, “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” which Moore wrote for his retired Navy Grandpa, and dedicated it tonight to all the service members who never made it home. With a thankful heart, Moore gushed, “It may go unsaid sometimes, but never unnoticed. You guys (fans) have made every dream I’ve ever had and more come true. I cant thank you enough from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to do this for over 10 years.”
Jake Owen was next up, bringing along his drummer to accompany him on stage as they rolled into his acoustic three-song set. “My Grandad is 94. He is an Army vet, and the rock of our family. He is the reason a lot of us turned out alright, because of all he instilled in us as kids. This song means a lot to me, and this is for him,” Owen said before he delivered an ardent performance of “The Journey of Your Life.” Among the three songs he performed included a spunky rendition of the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” during his hit “Barefoot Blue Jean Night.”
Hunter Hayes made sure to open his performance by first stating, “Before anything else is said, I want you guys to know that it’s truly a privilege to get to play a show like this on a day like this. Our U.S. Veterans are the true rockstars. We love you, respect you, God bless you. Thank you so much.” Hayes performed his hits “21,” “Wanted,” and “I Want Crazy.” His final words were that his favorite lyric in “I Want Crazy” is “Love don’t know what distance is,” and he related that military spouses might find that especially true.
When Chris Young took the stage, I actually thought the audience multiplied in numbers based on how loud the cheers were. This date happened to be two days before his highly anticipated fifth album was released, and Young genuinely thanked his fans for sticking by him from the start. He sang “Lonely Eyes,” his first No. 1 “Getting’ You Home,” and closed out his set with his current smash, “I’m Comin’ Over.”
The Band Perry kicked off their set with quite possibly the most energy I’ve ever seen during an acoustic performance, by any band. They performed their hits “Done,” “Live Forever,” and “If I Die Young.” The Band Perry’s gratitude for Chicago, the fans and the military vets that we were celebrating during this event was clearly stated several times during their humbling three-song set.
When Kip Moore takes the stage, you can’t help but be immediately intrigued. He is easily one of the most genuine people, and wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his life and his opinions. He explained his challenges in making this last album, because people didn’t think what he was writing about was “appropriate.” His response? “I said this is the way it’s going to be, and here it is.” He then performed a very magnetic, raw song, “That Was Us” from his latest album. Before closing out, he sang a special verse of a song he wrote, on a New York subway, for our service members. The song is called, “Battle Cry,” and he left us with his thoughts towards our veterans, “I truly care so much about what those men and women do for us. For us to get to live in this country, to do this,” he said, alluding to this night.
Little Big Town can most accurately be summed up in one word – flawless. Their vocals are incredibly entrancing, and their stage presence is prodigious. They performed “Jolene,” “Girl Crush,” and “Boondocks” during their set, and closed out by simply, but honestly stating, “Military means so much to all of us. We all have family members involved in the service, and we want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
A Navy Vet himself, Gary Allan humbly took the stage, making sure to thank our vets, but never once mentioned himself as one! In regards to his set, he stated, “I decided I’d do something really old, really new, and a favorite.” Which led to his set consisting of, “Her Man,” “Mess Me Up” and “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain).”
Dierks Bentley opened up his set with the song “Riser,” saying, “This song makes me think of my dad, who is a WWII Vet. It makes me think of so many special people, too. My friend Amy, one of our Miles and Music Events raising money for childhood cancer, it’s just a full circle moment tonight. Back to being about vets, the true risers. Families who are away from their loved ones for months and years at a time. This is for all the risers, the vets.” Before performing “Drunk On A Plane,” Bentley appropriately quoted what his dad used to say in regards to funerals, “Short on the ceremony, long on the cocktails.” This seemed to be an accurate description of the celebration of Veteran’s Day during Stars and Strings! Just as we thought the show was over because Bentley had finished his three songs, some special guests rushed to the stage! Eric Paslay and Charles Kelley (of Lady Antebellum) joined Bentley for a special surprise performance of a song they recently wrote together, titled “High Price.” What a treat! Bentley appropriately closed out the phenomenal night dedicating his song, “Home” to the 1 percent of people who are fighting for our country.
Bravo to everyone involved in Stars and Strings! I don’t think that there has ever been an event quite like this; honoring our veterans and our country, while combining that with performances by a roster of artists that are awards show-caliber. Wow. As Dierks Bentley exclaimed, “This is the biggest lineup probably ever! Coolest event. I hope I get invited back next year!”