If there was a lucky number for CBS Radio's upcoming Stars and Strings benefit show, it would be 11. That's precisely how many acts there are on the bill, and contest winners from all 11 of the chain's country stations will be in attendance. And while the show takes place Nov. 9, its focus is on Veteran's Day, which is marked annually on Nov. 11. Yup, 11/11.
The acoustic show, which will honor military heroes and their families, will take place at the historic Chicago Theatre in the Windy City and feature Jason Aldean, Kelsea Ballerini, Big & Rich, Dan + Shay, Tyler Farr, Brantley Gilbert, Randy Houser, Rascal Flatts, Chase Rice and two surprise guests who could not be announced in advance due to nearby tour routing concerns. The 3,800-seat venue sold out in five minutes, according to Jeff Kapugi, CBS Radio vp country programming and PD of WUSN Chicago. Two other artists, Jerrod Niemann and Michael Ray, will perform at a related event on Nov. 8, Toast to the Troops, at Chicago's Joe's Pub. That event also honors veterans, active military and first responders.
"It's really a great way for our country radio stations to wrap our arms around things that are important to our listeners," says Kapugi of the two events.
The beneficiary of both shows is the charity Folds of Honor, which provides educational support to spouses and children of America's fallen and wounded soldiers. Kapugi says CBS will make "a very sizable contribution" to the charity, and the rest of the show's proceeds will pay for production costs.
This is the second year for Stars and Strings, and Kapugi says the success of 2015's show, which featured Dierks Bentley, Little Big Town and other stars, made the follow-up an inevitability. Even before Kapugi and his team had done a postmortem on that show, he says he began fielding calls from artists and reps volunteering for the 2016 edition.
"Everybody that played here last year just had a blast," he says. "Honestly, a lot of them said, 'If you need someone to do this again next year, please call me.' We didn't do that, but we're definitely keeping that one in our hip pocket."
The show is deliberately timed for midweek, says Kapugi, "as we try to be respectful to the artists and their touring schedules, not taking any weekend play dates out of their schedule. And it gives us a better bill at the end of the day."
Farr and Ballerini are excited to be participating. Says Farr, "Anything that benefits that kind of organization, I'm always going to be a part of. It's a great cause." Farr and his band have done three overseas tours to perform for U.S. troops in Africa, Europe and Bahrain, and he says performing for troops and military-related causes is "the least we can do to pay some gratitude and respect back."
Ballerini, too, says she "has a heart" for military causes. "In country music, the military is something that's written and talked about a lot and is honored a lot. As a new country music artist, it's my job to keep that legacy alive." That's particularly true, she says, in the lead-up to the holiday season when military families are feeling the absence of loved ones lost in combat or stationed abroad. "It's good to be able to take the time and honor them while their families are missing them."
On a personal note, Ballerini is looking forward to once again sharing a bill with Rascal Flatts, joking that since their tour together ended earlier in 2016 she has had "separation anxiety."