With a smile as broad as his trademark, wide-brimmed cowboy hat, headliner Charlie Daniels opened his Columbus’ Rock the Park concert Friday with “Southern Boy,” an introductory anthem for his half-century-plus career.
“I’m right at home in Georgia or down in Caroline
Yeah I’d be happy anywhere below that Mason-Dixon line.”
He seemed plenty happy at Mill Race Park, where an estimated 5,000 people, from teens to retirees, cheered his entrance and waved cowboy hats and snapped cellphone photos.
“I do believe it’s party time in the Hoosier State,” he shouted. “Are y’all ready to get down?”
The 78-year-old Daniels, who played before 3,500 people at the July 2000 Bartholomew County 4-H Fair, promised about 80 minutes of music in a recent interview with The Republic. He said it would include hits such as, “Long-Haired Country Boy,” “The South’s Gonna Do it Again,” and others. On this tour, he has saved the crossover classic, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” as a fiery, fiddling closer.
Organizers with the Columbus Area Arts Council sold an estimated 2,500 tickets before Friday’s gate sales.
The audience definitely seemed nearly as large as the Rock the Park event in 2013 with REO Speedwagon, when 7,000 reminisced to pop-rock hits.
Just before local Battle of the Bands winner Infinity Now opened the show, the line for those still needing tickets swelled to at least several hundred or more. In that crowd stood people such as Greenwood’s Earl Ellis, who met Daniels briefly at the end of a 1994 Indianapolis concert in which Ellis worked security.
“That was awesome,” Ellis said of the handshake and greeting they shared. “It was a brief encounter, but still awesome.
“And I see today he’s still burnin’ up those (violin) bows.”
Columbus’ Kyle Anderson, accompanying Ellis, said a YouTube video or two could offer proof of Daniels ripping through five different bows on some live versions of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” At 18, Anderson found himself one among many younger concertgoers smitten for years over Daniels.
“I just love his fiddle playing,” Anderson said. “And I love ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ — the energy, the speed, just everything about it.”
The former electric bass player for Bob Dylan in the late 1960s planned at least two Dylan tunes, “Tangled Up in Blue,” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” from his latest disc, “Off the Grid — Doin’ It Dylan.” Salem’s Sherrie Brooks said she recalls the days when Daniels played and toured with Dylan.
“I love his music and everything,” Brooks said. “He just can’t slow down.”
Friend Chris Liebert who accompanied Brooks from Salem, agreed with her ever-energetic assessment of the man still portraying himself as something of a rebel.
“I don’t think he’ll ever stop touring,” said Liebert, who frequently sings Daniels’ tunes at karaoke gatherings. “Whenever he finally goes, he’ll probably be right there on stage.”
At the outset of Friday’s event, the country and southern rocker worked to make the crowd his. And he clearly succeeded with longtime fan Jay Jackson of Columbus. He’s followed Daniels music since the 1970s, when he first heard “Long-Haired Country Boy” for the first time.
“That song just made my heart soar,” he said.
He looked over others at the park and said he figured they could relate.
“I can guarantee you that just about everybody in here came tonight with a little piece of Mr. Charlie Daniels in their heart,” Jackson said.
And probably carried home yet another.