CONCERT REVIEW: Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers + More Lift Spirits, Raise Millions at ‘Kentucky Rising’ Benefit Show
After record flooding decimated Eastern Kentucky in late July and early August, leaving 40 people dead (and counting), the region needed a bit of hope. They got just that on Tuesday night when past and present Kentucky country music royalty gathered at Rupp Arena for Kentucky Rising, a concert that raised over $2.5 million for relief efforts in the ravaged region.
Spearheaded by Lexington-born, Staffordsville-raised artist Chris Stapleton, the event also featured performances from Pikeville’s Dwight Yoakam, Lawrence County’s Tyler Childers and a slew of special guests. The sold-out show gathered a crowd of 14,000 fans for a night full of top-shelf country music benefiting a noble cause.
Following an opening duet from Stapleton and Yoakam on a rendition of the latter’s “Miner’s Prayer,” Childers and the Food Stamps took the stage for the group’s first show back at Rupp Arena since playing there with Sturgill Simpson on Feb. 28, 2020. Childers ran through fan favorites like “Country Squire,” “Honky Tonk Flame,” “House Fire,” “Universal Sound,” and “All Your’n” along with “Way of the Triune God” from his newly released triple album Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?
That being said, the biggest surprise of Childers’ set was a performance in which he didn’t himself sing. Instead of covering S.G. Goodman’s “Space & Time,” which has become a staple of his recent live shows, Childers welcomed the Western Kentucky native to the stage to lead the ballad herself.
That wasn’t it for Childers, though. He soon returned to the stage alongside Stapleton for a duet on “Follow You to Virgie” before Yoakam kicked off his honky-tonk set.
During Yoakam's performance, he made nods to both his California ("Streets of Bakersfield") and Kentucky roots ("Readin', Rightin', Route 23," "Floyd County") while also navigating through hits like "Honky Tonk Man," "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere" and "Little Sister." He also took time to reflect on the floods that led to this show's organization and the resilience of Kentuckians.
"When it rains, it floods," said Yoakam. "And when that happens in Kentucky, people get back up."
However, Stapleton and the special guests he trotted out truly stole the show. After an introduction from University of Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops, the award-winning artist ran through a lengthy mix of tracks from his entire catalog. He treated fans to "Parachute," "Starting Over," "Midnight Train to Memphis," and, of course, "Tennessee Whiskey" (although he admitted while playing it that Kentucky bourbon is better).
Stapleton also welcomed two esteemed Kentuckians to the stage for a particularly memorable moment of the night. Ricky Skaggs shared a cover of "Bury Me Beneath the Willow" before inviting Patty Loveless to join them for a performance of "Coal Minin' Man." Loveless then provided her own interpretation of Darrell Scott's "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive" before rolling into her own 1994 hit "You Don't Even Know Who I Am" to an avalanche of applause. Both excelled throughout their sit-ins, especially Loveless, who retired from performing live a decade ago but didn't seem to miss a beat, hitting every note with unwavering confidence.
All things considered, the excitement surrounding Skaggs' and Loveless' surprise appearances paled in comparison to the show's epic finale — a cover of John Prine's "Paradise" that featured Childers, Yoakam, Skaggs, Loveless, and Goodman sharing and trading verses before coming together to harmonize its chorus rich with Kentucky imagery.
Despite the song's Western Kentucky roots, it was a perfect cap to an evening full of some of the best music Kentucky has to offer while also raising money and awareness for those still recovering in the state's eastern corridor.
"You did a good thing tonight," said Stapleton to the crowd. "Just know that."