It's hard to say what Hootie and the Blowfish's beer of choice might've been back when they were playing dorm parties at the University of South Carolina in the late '80s. Miller High Life? Milwaukee's Best? Natty Light?
Whatever it was, it probably didn't have their name on it. But that's not the case anymore.
Darius Rucker and his Grammy-winning band have tens of thousands of Hootie-branded cans spread acrosss the Southeast. Plenty went down Friday at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, where the semi-retired '90s roots-rockets played a rare one-off concert to celebrate the release of Hootie's Homegrown Ale, a collaboration with Tampa's Rock Brothers Brewing.
"We can't believe we actually have our own beer," Rucker said, raising a can in the air.
Originally created in conjunction with Cigar City Brewing and South Carolina's Palmetto Brewing, and now produced at the Brew Hub in Lakeland, the ale has technically been around since 2014 in South Carolina, and a couple of months in local stores, too. This belated party was to celebrate its arrival in Florida — and particularly its wide availability in Publix, a huge benchmark for a business that's still building its own brewery.
"Just to Publix, we sold 2,000 cases of cans," said Jay Martin, executive vice president and chief operating officer of distributor J.J. Taylor. "Anybody who tries Hootie's Homegrown Ale is going to be familiar with Rock Brothers now, if they hadn't been before."
In addition to $5 cans and swag everywhere, this concert sparked a huge amount of publicity. Tickets were made available only by invitation or through contests — not that that stopped hundreds of people from calling the venue, looking for any way in. Hootie and the Blowfish haven't toured in years, now that Rucker is a huge country star; he estimated this was the band's first big show outside South Carolina in eight years. At least a few fans flew in from out of state just to catch them.
The band played all their old hits (Hold My Hand, Time, Only Wanna Be With You) and a few deeper cuts. Of the rarity What Do You Want From Me, Rucker said: "We don't play it that often. We don't play that often."
They spun through a ton of covers (Oasis' Champagne Supernova, R.E.M.'s Losing My Religion, Led Zeppelin's Hey Hey What Can I Do) and even tossed in one of Rucker's solo country singles, Alright. Rucker even wove a little product placement into one of the band's biggest hits, Let Her Cry: "So I sat back down and had a Hootie's Homegrown beer and felt sorry for myself..."
It all made for a surreal night for Rock Brothers owners Kevin Lilly and Tony Casoria, who took in as much of the show as possible while hugging well-wishers and making sure the event went off as planned. Lilly, who grew up partly in Greenville, S.C., said he'd targeted Hootie and the Blowfish as a potential partner since conceiving of Rock Brothers years ago, and couldn't believe the night was actually here.
"I just want time to slow down," he said, incredulous.
For a while toward the end, it did. Seemingly inspired by the celebratory vibe, the band tacked a couple of extra songs onto the end of their setlist, with Rucker and guitarist Mark Bryan clanking their cans of Hootie's Homegrown Ale together during a jam-out of the R&B classic Mustang Sally.
"Rock Brothers came to us with this great idea, and we said yeah, and now we got cans all over America," Rucker told the crowd. "People send me tweets of how they're drinking our beer. Rock Brothers, Publix, thank you for taking a chance."
He added: "The best thing about it is the closest supermarket to me is a Publix. I go to Publix every day."
Now when he reaches the beer aisle, he'll know exactly which cans to grab.
— Jay Cridlin