BY LISA WARREN
Country music entertainer Darius Rucker performed before a near-capacity crowd at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center on Sunday evening.
The concert was part of a two-day Niswonger Children's Hospital Golf Classic Weekend, a star-studded extravaganza that included more than 20 big names from the professional sports and music industries.
During his hour-and-half show, Rucker, who was backed up by his talented band of musicians, performed several of his country hits, including his cover of the beloved Old Crow Medicine Show tune, "Wagon Wheel."
He finished the show with a cover of the 1980s megahit "Purple Rain," by Prince.
Today, the event's golf tournament was being held at The Virginian in Bristol, Va.
Among the celebrities participating in this year's event were:
* Ray Allen, of the Miami Heat;
* Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech head football coach;
* Jim Crane, Houston Astros owner;
* Dell Curry, former NBA player;
* Stephen Curry, of the Golden State Warriors;
* Phillip Fulmer, former head football coach of the University of Tennessee;
* Hallerin Hilton Hill, radio and TV host of "Anything is Possible";
* Victor Jones, former Tampa Bay Bucs player;
* Bob Kesling, UT sports announcer;
* Dan Marino, former Miami Dolphins quarterback and broadcaster on "The NFL Today";
* Cuonzo Martin, men's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee;
* Larry Mize, PGA player;
* Corey Pavin, PGA player
* Tom Purtzer, PGA player;
* Emmitt Smith, former Dallas Cowboys running back;
* Bruce Smith, former defensive end of the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins;
* Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons head coach;
* Jim Stuckey, former San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman; and
* Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys tight end.
In addition to playing in the golf tournament today, each of the celebrities attended the Sunday evening concert, where they were introduced on stage by Greeneville businessman and philanthrophist Scott M. Niswonger prior to Rucker's performance.
Niswonger thanked each of the celebrities for participating in the fundraising event for the children's hospital that bears his name.
"I extend heart-felt thanks to each of them for so freely giving their time," Niswonger said. "You being here greatly helps us toward meeting our goal."
"Last year, we raised $389,000 for the Children's Hospital. This year, I can tell you -- thanks to you and our celebrities -- we have already raised over $700,000," Niswonger said.
Niswonger noted that the money raised from this year's golf classic weekend will be used for the purchase of pediatric syringe pumps, which are used to administer precise doses of medication to the hospital's young patients.
During the concert, Rucker extended his appreciation to Niswonger and to the celebrities who turned out to help raise money for the children's hospital.
"It's great to see people who want to help other people," Rucker said.
Before leaving the stage Rucker took off his cap and autographed it, handing it to one of the audience members who had rushed up to the stage.
It turned out to be Mandy Kilday of Consumer Credit Union, who was quite happy and said, "His concert was awesome!"
AUCTION OF GUITAR
As a special surprise to the audience, as the concert ended, the house lights were brought up and the guests were invited to stay for a special auction of Darius Rucker's guitar.
The crowd cheered as auctioneer Bruce Pearl started the bidding at $5,000.
Immediately the bidding came in earnest, and it was clear to the crowd that two men were in a bidding war.
When the bidding got to $21,000, Rucker stepped to the microphone and told both men if they each gave $21,000, he would offer one of his other guitars -- a quick $42,000 for the Niswonger Children's Hospital.
"This is great," said Rucker, "the children thank you."