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Darius Rucker comes back strong

Darius Rucker headlining concert at Coral Sky in West Palm Beach.

When a nice run with his pop band Hootie and the Blowfish paused in 2008, Darius Rucker decided to make a country album.

"I wanted to take a break from touring," Rucker says. "I thought it'd just be me and my buddies in my room making a record."

Instead, he's become a country star. Rucker will be the featured performer Saturday, May 23, in the first of 10 country concerts this summer and fall in West Palm Beach. He says his success in country amazes him, considering he didn't think he'd even get a country-music contract.

"I wouldn't have given me one," Rucker admits. "I mean, just because a guy says he wants to make a country record …"

Since then, he has reached No. 1 on the country charts with the singles "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," "It Won't Be Like This for Long," "Alright," "This" and "Come Back Song," all of which he co-wrote.

His biggest hit is "Wagon Wheel," a cover of the 2004 Old Crow Medicine Show string band song, which itself was based on an uncompleted song by Bob Dylan.

"When I first began playing it and the crowd reacted like they did, someone told me now I'm going to have to sing that song for the rest of my life," he says. "That's OK with me."

Rucker's fourth country album, titled "Southern Style," was released March 31 and charted at No. 1. It includes the hit "Homegrown Honey," a reference to his hometown, Charleston, S.C.

"To me, the South means a laid-back lifestyle, beaches, family and being able to have a good time when you want to," he says. "In Charleston, nobody's in a rush to get anywhere. And there's a mentality that there's room for everybody. So with these songs, I wanted to bring out the way I live, the way my friends live, and all the things that are important to us."

Rucker, whose songs boast an easygoing, earnest tone, says he's pleased that fans are singing along with the new songs on his current tour, which began May 14. "I'm surprised that so many people were singing along and know the new songs," he says.

The show also includes older hits, songs from his days as lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish (the band still plays a few charity events every year) and a couple of covers.

Rucker, 49, is a lifelong Miami Dolphins fans — remember the lyric "the Dolphins make me cry" from Hootie's "Only Wanna Be With You"? — and sang at Dan Marino's retirement ceremony. He remembers watching the team win the Super Bowl on Jan. 13, 1974. He was 7.

He says he's optimistic about next year, considering the Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh, drafted wide receiver DeVante Parker and on Monday signed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a six-year contract extension.

"I love where we're going," he says. "I want to make the playoffs and want them to win the Super Bowl before I leave this earth. I'm optimistic, but I'm also part Missouri: show me."

As far as Tannehill goes, Rucker says the concept of job security can really help a person perform.

"It's like, now there's no pressure, kid," Rucker says. "Don't worry about losing your job. Just go play."

Darius Rucker will perform 7 p.m. Saturday, May 23 at Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansburys Way, in West Palm Beach. Brett Eldredge, Brothers Osborne, A Thousand Horses will open. The concert is the first show in the Coral Sky Megaticket, which also includes Florida Georgia Line, Brad Paisley and Luke Bryan. Tickets cost $44.75-$189. Call 800-745-3000 or go to LiveNation.com or Megaticket.com.

Nsortal@SouthFlorida.com

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