by Ryan Cox ’18
Last Thursday night, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center offered a unique opportunity to country music fans in Southern New England. Sponsored by Cat Country and Dunkin’ Donuts, the venue hosted its second annual “Stars with Guitars” acoustic guitar pull, where all the artists are on stage together, taking turns playing songs and sharing stories about their musical careers.
The show was a benefit concert, and all proceeds went to Hasbro Children’s Hospital. This year’s show featured rising artists Ryan Follese, and Runaway June, as well as Love and Theft, LoCash, Jon Pardi, and Josh Turner, who all donated their time to perform.
Follese, the former frontman of the band Hot Chelle Rae, was eager to share some of his backstory. Follese’s parents were both country songwriters, writing Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That,” and Faith Hill’s “The Way You Love Me.” He performed his latest single, “Put a Label on It,” and the Hot Chelle Rae hit “Tonight Tonight,” among a few others. Follese seemed the most excited to perform at the event, saying, “This is really cool for us because it feels much like a Nashville writers’ night. I feel like I’m bringing the Bluebird up to you guys.”
Runaway June brought the most traditional country sound to the first half of the show. Their latest single, “Lipstick,” capitalizes on their organic country twang, bringing a bit of traditional female harmony to an industry marked heavily by country-pop. Jennifer Wayne, granddaughter of actor John Wayne, spoke briefly about growing up around her grandfather.
Love and Theft featured their newest single, “Candyland,” and an unreleased song, “Love Wins,” that reminds men to be “better husbands, better fathers,” according to the band. The single has just been released online but will be featured on the band’s upcoming album.
Pardi brought a big personality to the night. Despite his California roots, he injects a throwback country sound into his music. He performed his first number one, “Up All Night,” which brings back the sound of late ’90s and early 2000s country. He was the only artist who brought an electric guitar onstage, a strange choice at first that worked surprisingly well with the acoustic guitar and was a fantastic way to best represent his style.
LoCash’s sound was the most contemporary of the six artists. The duo performed a couple of their hits, including “I Know Somebody” (their first number one), and their current single, “Ring on Every Finger.” They also performed the Tim McGraw song “Truck Yeah,” which they co-wrote in 2012.
Turner’s iconic country bass has remained unchanged for almost 20 years, staying strong in the face of the rapidly-diversifying country genre. His cool, mellow stage presence matched his warm, bass voice. From his presence on stage, it was clear that Turner had the most experience performing, but it would have been nice to see him open up a little more about his career during the night.
To see the artists laughing and talking genuinely with each other and the audience was a refreshing change, and a unique opportunity to see artists in the situation in which most of them got their start. For one night, the concert was about the music, rather than the show.
The Dunk was only open to a third of its capacity, creating an intimate experience for the audience to interact with the artists. “Stars with Guitars” is the most recent iteration of Cat Country’s benefit concerts, beginning in 2009 with the “Snowball” series, but this is shaping up to be their most successful version of the charity concert.