Country’s big names come to Chicago to honor veterans in concert

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By Tricia Despres | For the Sun-Times

If there is ever a story to tell, country music will find a way to tell it. And none are as raw and heartwarming as the stories of our military. So, as often happens, this undeniable connection between our military and country music sparked an idea.

That idea will finally come to fruition at “Stars and Strings,” a collaboration of this country’s military with country’s most famed artists in a sold-out acoustic concert Nov. 11 at the Chicago Theatre.

“Choosing to have the event at Chicago Theatre is twofold,” explains Jeff Kapugi, program director of US 99.5 (WUSN-FM in  Chicago). “We knew right off the bat that this was not going to be an ‘in your face’ kind of concert. It was going to be a different type of show where these artists would be telling stories and playing music in a very acoustic and raw environment. And while we could have had the show at a place like the United Center – the show sold out in two minutes – the bigger venues just didn’t fit what we wanted to do with this.”

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‘STARS AND STRINGS’ When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State Tickets: Sold out Info: thechicagotheatre.com

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And while Kapugi says that planning for the event started just about one year ago, it didn’t take long for country artists to get wind of the event and wanting to somehow get involved. “I continue to have artists contacting us seeing if they can still fit on the bill,” chuckles Kapugi. “I’ve had to start telling them that while we can’t fit them in this year, we will certainly try for 2016.”

The list of artists scheduled to perform at this year’s event currently includes Dierks Bentley, Chris Young, Gary Allan, Hunter Hayes, Jake Owen, Justin Moore, Kip Moore, Lee Brice, Jerrod Niemann, the Band Perry and Little Big Town.

“Anything we can do for our veterans … we will do,” explains Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet before a recent DeKalb show. “[LBT’s] Jimi [Westbrook]’s dad was in the Air Force, and we all have numerous extended family that have been in the armed forces. But really, I think being in the military is part of the thread of rural living. People in those communities that we all came from love their God and love their country, so they are always ready to serve and support our armed forces.”

During a recent US 99.5 broadcast, Bentley said he was excited about playing  “with a bunch of Nashville stars and friends of mine. It’s going to be fun – a chance to play country music, honor our veterans and raise money for a great cause.  That’s awesome for me, and I feel lucky to be a part of it.”

Indeed, the spine of the event lies within the good it will do to benefit Folds of Honor, which provides educational support to spouses and children of America’s fallen and wounded soldiers. And with the promise of an acoustic style sure to spawn some once-in-a-lifetime performances, everyone is interested to see what kind of music gets made on stage that night. “Many things happen the day of during a show such as this,” says Sweet, whose band won Country Music Association Awards on Wednesday for vocal group and single of the year. “It’s sort of spontaneous what happens when a bunch of friends like we are with these artists run into each other backstage at the same show and start coming up with music right there on the spot.”

Added Kapugi, “You just can’t script a show such as this. Magic is going to happen when you get real friends such as Jerrod Niemann and Lee Brice on that stage together or Little Big Town and Dierks Bentley end up doing sound check together. Things will just happen, and I can’t wait to watch.”

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