SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Following Hootie: Bear Rinehart, Needtobreathe fine tune their charity efforts
The resident rock star cuts his own James Island lawn and never forgets his roots.
Yes, Needtobreathe lead singer Bear Rinehart says, Possum Kingdom is an actual South Carolina town.
“Just to make sure, I went back recently,” Rinehart said of his native Possum Kingdom, not far from Anderson. “There's not much to it but a store, but an older guy working there said he remembered me.”
Rinehart always leaves a mark.
At Furman, the resourceful wide receiver named after legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant caught a school-record 70 passes as a senior in 2002.
On the Billboard album chart, Needtobreathe's “The Reckoning” zipped up to No. 6 in 2011 with a smash crossover appeal to Christian and secular audiences. Hits such as “Drive All Night” and “Keep Your Eyes Open” are featured as bumper music for World Series and NFL telecasts, movies (“Employee of the Month”) and TV shows (from “Cougar Town” to “Hart of Dixie”).
Now with The Needtobreathe Classic, Rinehart and his fellow band members take their charity efforts up a notch. The Tuesday golf tournament on Daniel Island's Ralston Creek and Beresford courses benefits the Palmetto Medical Initiative (PMI) global medical missions via Commonwealth Cares Foundation, and includes a post-event concert. The guest list features former NFL head coach Dan Reeves, ex-New York Yankees star and Gamecocks head coach Bobby Richardson, NFL kickers Ryan Succop and Mason Crosby, and 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne. Musicians include Collective Soul, Tenth Avenue North, Drew Holcomb and John Mark McMillan.
“A lot of my family members are missionaries,” said Rinehart, the son of a preacher who moved the family from Possum Kingdom to Seneca. “As soon as the band started taking off, we started looking at ways to help people effectively.”
Rinehart, 32, is keenly aware of the great body of charity work put forth by another South Carolina-based band of sports fans. Needtobreathe, Rinehart said, looks up to Hootie & The Blowfish's contributions.
“Those guys have been good ambassadors for the state,” Rinehart said. “You could definitely do a lot worse.”
But Rinehart isn't new at this. The staff inside PMI's modest West Ashley office knows him as a frequent visitor. He went on a PMI trip to Uganda.
“It was pretty huge for me, to be able to see a medical mission in real life,” Rinehart said. “They put me in the pharmacy, which I'm not medical at all. That was intimidating. It was incredible to see such a need, but also how simple the solutions can be. People over there are dying of things that are very treatable, like malaria that is treatable with a $4 pill.
“The first day I went to a clinic, I saw a government clinic right before we went to the PMI clinic. The government clinic was atrocious. I saw a birth happen on a dirt floor, completely unsanitary. Then to go over to the PMI clinic across the street, staffed by Ugandans and completely clean and safe and professional; I thought, man, this is incredible. PMI has identified the problem and found the solutions.”
Taylor Swift, and Hulk
It figures that charity impact will grow with band popularity, and Needtobreathe is gaining ground faster than Rinehart tore through Southern Conference defenses. Bear, his younger brother Bo Rinehart and Seth Bolt recorded the 14-song “The Reckoning” at their Summerville studio. They are almost two years into various tours.
They have been to Europe, done the Jay Leno Show, opened for Taylor Swift. They have played Madison Square Garden and Cowboys Stadium.
Closer to home, professional wrestler Hulk Hogan introduced them at Clemson's Littlejohn Arena.
“The first few records we made, we really didn't think anybody was going to listen, or at least not that many people,” Rinehart said. “With 'The Reckoning' we knew it was pretty clear people would pay attention, whether the album was good or bad. So we thought we might want to make it good. There was that pressure added.”
The next tour starts Tuesday after the golf event and winds across the U.S. before returning home for a May 11 appearance at North Charleston's Performing Arts Center.
“It's humbling,” Rinehart said. “Sometimes I realize we're riding around in a couple of buses with a truck behind us and I think, 'Whoa, how did we get here?' ”
Bear vs. Bo
The Needtobreathe sports twist goes way back, to birth. Bo Rinehart's middle name is Bryant, also a tribute to the legendary former head coach. Bear and Bo try to sneak in as much golf as possible on tour and have enjoyed meeting athletes, taking batting practice at baseball games and talking football whenever possible.
“I'm a huge Atlanta Braves fan,” Bear Rinehart said. “Of course, I like Alabama football.”
Bear's favorite NFL team?
Rinehart was 6-0, 200 pounds when he helped the Furman Paladins go 38-13 with two Southern Conference championships from 1999-2002. He has shed 20 pounds but not his football acumen. Rinehart still keeps in touch with former coaches and teammates — including Alabama assistant coach and former Furman quarterback Billy Napier — to offer strategy suggestions.
“I'll call and say, 'Hey, you need to run this route against this team,' ” Rinehart said. “I'm still into it.”
The Rinehart brothers are hyper-competitive.
“Oh, yeah,” Bear said. “To get to do this with your brother makes it extra special. But we compete knock-down, drag-out with anything. Backstage — who can throw the cup the farthest. Anything.”
Needtobreathe fans will be glad to know the new studio album is scheduled for fall release.
“To be determined,” Rinehart said.
Untitled album tour dates?
Not sure about that either. But you can probably pencil in Charleston, the entire U.S. and Europe. If not Possum Kingdom.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.