This wasn’t the first time Darius Rucker was pranked by Brad Paisley. But Tuesday night at the Grand Ole Opry marked the first time one of Paisley’s stunts moved him to tears – of joy – and had the audience leaping to its feet.
Midway through his set as the final act on the weekly Tuesday night Opry show, Rucker, 46, good-naturedly replied yes when the announcer asked if he would be open to some questions from the audience, and took queries from two female fans.
Then Opry manager Pete Fisher allowed one more question, and a man in a white hat stood up and grabbed the wireless mike. When the audience recognized Paisley, they burst into delighted applause, and Rucker and his band broke out laughing.
“I have two questions,” said Paisley, 39. “One, are you still the worst poker player in the world?”
Rucker sheepishly admitted he was indeed a loser.
“And two,” continued Paisley, “Would you like to become the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry?”
The audience shot to their feet in a standing ovation as Paisley bounded to the stage and Rucker shook his head in disbelief. When Paisley asked the crowd to “Welcome him home, everyone,” Rucker had to pause to compose himself, wiping tears from his eyes, and telling his fans, “You guys are here for one of the most special nights of my life. Thank you for sharing it with me.”
Backstage, Rucker told PEOPLE that it took a minute for it all to sink in.
“I thought it was just Brad playing another joke. When he said those words, it was like a tape delay from his mouth to my ears and then my brain,” he said. “It means so much to be accepted into this circle, and there’s no one I would rather have asked me than Brad.”
Rucker confessed that Hootie and the Blowfish – the band he founded in 1986 – had always wanted to play the Opry but could never swing an invitation. His new status might change all that.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hootie show up one night!” he said.
Rucker, the first African-American to join the Opry since Charley Pride became a member in 1993, will be inducted on Oct. 16, during GAC’s Noteworthy at the Opry segment of the radio show.