Since its first year, the benefit show has raised $750,000 for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. According to Wiseman, for every $1 raised during the event, four meals are provided to families in need in Nashville and its surrounding areas. Wiseman told Wide Open Country he was excited to have the opportunity to raise money while showcasing some of his favorite voices in country music.
“Cole Swindell is one of the best emerging acts right now,” Wiseman said of his hand-picked performers. “I’ve known Dierks forever and I’m so proud of him.”
Sarah Buxton, Rodney Clawson and Chris Tompkins joined Wiseman for a writer’s round-style set to kick-off the evening. The four songwriters played a medley of their collective individual hits, which included Florida Georgia Line‘s “Sundaze,” Carrie Underwood‘s “Before He Cheats” and Tim McGraw‘s “Live Like You Were Dying.”
Chris Carmack performed “What If I Was Willing,” a song made famous by his Nashville alter-ego Will Lexington, before playing his own soulful single, “Being Alone.” The track will be featured on his upcoming EP, Pieces Of You, due out later this year.
The youngest Nashville stars, Lennon and Maisy, couldn’t contain their excitement about being asked to perform. “Playing the Ryman is incredible on its own,” Lennon Stella explained, “but to be part of this event is just amazing.”
The two almost instantly won over the crowd with their charming performance of “Life That’s Good,” a song that was featured in an episode of Nashville during its last season, and a sugary-sweet cover of Charlie XCX’s pop hit, “Boom Clap.” The duo then introduced their co-star and “favorite of middle-aged women,” Charles Esten, who brought a gritty and energetic performance of original songs that worked up the crowd just in time for Cole Swindell’s set.
A somewhat nervous Swindell cranked out solid acoustic versions of his songs, including the extremely personal “You Should Be Here,” which was written about the loss of his father. Swindell explained that Bentley sent a touching, handwritten letter of condolence to him, which made him realize country is about “more than just good music; it’s about good people.” He rounded out his set with his current hit, “Ain’t Worth The Whiskey,” which incited a soaring singalong from the crowd that brought a big smile to the 31-year-old’s face.
The night wrapped up with a performance from a relaxed and reflective Bentley, who shared stories of his previous visits to the Ryman and CMA Fests between stripped-down versions of his hits, including “Say You Do” and “Drunk on a Plane.”
Overall, the event was a joyful night of music all created for a good cause. It was clear after talking to the performers that the biggest star in their eyes that night, aside from Second Harvest Food Bank, was the intimate venue itself.
“This is the Ryman Auditorium,” Charles Esten explained thoughtfully, “Cole, Dierks, myself, and anybody here will agree that is the biggest name of all.”