Ask Darius Rucker about the architectural style of his new house in Nashville and he doesn’t miss a beat. “That’s funny,” he deadpans in his rich baritone, before breaking into a deep laugh. “I have no idea!” You can forgive the country star and Hootie & the Blowfish frontman for not being up to speed on the exact design specs of his home, which he and his 16-year-old son, Jack, moved into just six months ago.
“My son and I came here for the golf course; we stayed for everything else,” Rucker explains. “I love the house, I love where we live, I love the neighbors.” Those would include fellow country crooners Brett Young, Chase Rice, Cole Swindell, Luke Bryan, and Jason Aldean, all of whom frequently hit the links with Rucker.
“The only thing I need to feel at home is, when I walk in and feel I want to be there, that’s home,” says Rucker.
The three-time Grammy winner has had just a few things on his plate since moving from South Carolina to Music City this year, including cohosting the CMA Awards with Reba McEntire, making a surprise appearance at the American Music Awards for a haunting acoustic duet with Katy Perry, and debuting his version of “What Child Is This” with Lindsey Stirling on the CMA Country Christmas special.
Not to mention making time to deck the halls of his new place. Christmas tree and decor brand Balsam Hill handled the design, dreaming up a “Nordic farmhouse”–themed winter wonderland. “That sounded so cool to me,” says Rucker. “Nordic farmhouse is perfect—that’s where the elves work, right?”
Darius Rucker still embraces his excitement for Christmas morning. “No matter what, I can stay up until 2:00 in the morning, and I’ll still be up around 4:00 or 4:30,” says the musician. “I wanted to get up and see the kids open their presents [when they were younger]. But I still do it to this day—I’m sure I’ll be up early on Christmas morning, just waiting for them to get up at 10:00.”
The tableau features a red motif, incorporating Balsam Hill’s Nordic Frost plaid ornaments, red berry garlands and tree topper, alpine ski ornaments, frosted pine cones, a candy-apple metallic tree collar (instead of a traditional cloth tree skirt), and the company’s iconic Fraser fir tree. “The red cranberry color works perfectly in the house and worked well with the natural light,” explains design expert Brad Schmidt , who oversaw the festooning. “It’s more of a traditional, country-style, masculine theme—it was perfectly woven through to give that feeling of a Nordic Christmas.” He recommends anchoring corners of rooms with different-size trees and weaving red ribbons and berries throughout trees, garlands, and wreaths to tie the entire look together.
“I walk in every day and it feels like Christmas,” says Rucker, who’s already giddy about his favorite holiday indulgences. “I’m an eggnog freak—not even alcoholic—just the regular kind, I love it,” he continues. “And there’s a Southern dish, sweet potato pie, that was always served in my family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s always the dessert I think of for holiday meals—I miss it.”
Rucker and his wife of two decades, Beth Leonard, announced their “conscious uncoupling” in a thoughtful social media post in July. He says he hopes his daughters Carolyn, 25, and Daniella, 19, will be able to join him and Jack for the holidays, but their plans remain up in the air given pandemic travel restrictions. “I’m sure we’ll figure out a way—as a parent you always hope for that.”
Despite the strains of the year, Rucker has been creatively prolific since March. Along with cowriting and quickly releasing the summer hit “Beers and Sunshine,” he’s been teaching himself piano (“I just want to get up one day and play ‘Let Her Cry’ on the piano—it may take me 10 years”) and has written or cowritten some 40 other new songs, sometimes squeezing in three or four writing sessions a day.
“I wasn’t going to do a record this year, I was going to take a year off; then the whole pandemic hit and there wasn’t really much else to do,” he explains. “I can’t wait to hear the albums that come out of this because people had so much time to write.”
And while he’s technically still a new resident of Nashville, he’s easily found his footing in the town’s notoriously tight-knit songwriting community. “I think most of the people I meet and hang with are surprised I didn’t have a place all this time—I’ve made all my records here,” he explains, noting that he released his first country album back in 2008. “After over a decade of being here and working hard and trying to be a nice guy, I like to feel I was already part of the community before I moved in.”
“My son and I came here for the golf course; we stayed for everything else,” says Rucker of his new Nashville home.
Still, Rucker—who found success as a ’90s rock star with the Blowfish before striking out as a solo act—has recently spoken about his experiences as a Black artist in the predominantly white country music world, including being told by a radio station that it wouldn’t play his record because audiences wouldn’t accept a Black country singer. “The response [to that interview] is what you’d expect,” he explains. “Most of the folks are very supportive and understand. And then you have the other side. I’ve always had the other side; there’s never been a point in my career where I’ve never had the other side, so I can deal with it.”
Rucker—who was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2012, and in 2009 became the first African American singer to win CMA’s New Artist of the Year award—says cohosting the CMAs this year with McEntire was one of the highlights of his career. “Reba was just amazingly great,” he says. “She was so giving and so gracious and so talented and so fun. Then we got to sing a song together, which is one of the things on my bucket list. She’s class personified.”
While Rucker is a new resident of Nashville, he’s easily found his footing in the town’s notoriously tight-knit songwriting community.
So would he consider more hosting gigs in the future? “Yes, please call me right now and ask me,” he answers with a chuckle. “It was hard work and I was really scared, I’m not going to lie. But once we started doing it, it was fun—I’d definitely do it again.”
Rucker is releasing two Christmas singles for 2020: his “What Child is This” duet with Stirling and the heartrending “Won’t Be Home for Christmas,” featuring Abigail Hodges and his Hootie & the Blowfish bandmates, which spotlights the sacrifices of military service members and their families. But despite his remarkably productive year, Rucker is keeping his successes in perspective. “So many people have had so many bad things happen this year—losing their jobs, their lives, and losing loved ones,” he reflects. “I’ve gotten to do some big things, but I’ll never look at 2020 as a big year.”
So what’s the first thing on his post-pandemic to-do list? “Tour!” he answers emphatically. “That’s it. There’s no long list, there’s just one—I want to get back on the road right now.” While he spent 2019 on a reunion tour with Hootie & the Blowfish, he says his next outing will be all country.
“The toughest thing about all of this this year, besides everything that’s happened in the world, is to not play music,” Rucker continues. “Not being able to help people by giving them a night of ‘Don’t think about it.’ The one thing I really believe is [that] when this is handled with the vaccine, when music starts again in a big way, the appreciation musicians are going to have for crowds, and crowds are going to have for musicians, will be at a whole new level.”