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Darrell Harwood, fans gather to celebrate life and fight cancer

By Jessica Coates

jessica.coates@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Karen Harwood said that her husband, Darrell, never meant to become a musician.

“His brother-in-law got cancer and they wanted to do a benefit for him,” Karen said. “And our guitar player, Eric, talked Darrell into singing a couple of songs and it just took off from there.”

Now, seven-and-a-half years later, Darrell is an award-winning country singer. But his passion for helping those with cancer has not gone away.

Darrell, along with Karen, organized the first Stand Together Music Festival and hosted it in China Grove — the city in which they both grew up — from 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday.

The eight-hour festival raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Karen said their family has had “a lot” of experience with the diseases.

“My mother, his father …  his brother-in-law. Lots,” Karen said.

Darrell was also diagnosed with cancer — melanoma — in 2012, but it was effectively treated.

Karen said that they had lots of volunteers for the event, but that it was Darrell’s idea to host it.

“We’ve worked with the Relay (for Life) for years and our schedules conflicted with the Relay for Life in Rowan County this year. And so we decided we still wanted to give something, so we decided to do our own,” Karen said.

Darrell recruited all of the bands that played at the festival and played with his own band from 8 to 10 p.m.

China Grove Mayor Lee Withers said that the town is “proud to be associated with Darrell Harwood.”

“We’re very proud of Darrell, Darrell being a China Grove native,” Withers said. “It’s just great to see what his mission has done for this community. And you can look out and see, there’s people from all walks of life here. There’s people from all facets of different parts of the community for miles and miles coming together for one cause. And that’s what’s amazing to me.”

Karen estimated that the show attracted more than 1,000 people, many of whom were fans of Darrell and had shown up to see his performance.

Some fans of Darrell didn’t get the chance to be in the crowd. Instead, they were serving as vendors and representatives in festival booths.

Mike Smith, who was serving barbecue as a vendor at the event, said that he had come to support Darrell.

“I used to work with Darrell doing the sound for him the first five years that he got started,” Smith said. “He asked me if I would be interested in cooking for this fundraiser so I told him, ‘Yeah, I’d be more than (happy) to.’ ”

Smith said that he’s known Darrell for years and considered him to be one of his good friends.

“I lived beside Darrell until he moved out from his momma and daddy’s, when he got married. Me and Darrell grew up together,” Smith said. “He is a real family man, loves his kids and his wife. He loves what he does on stage, he loves entertaining the crowd.”

Another fan, Suzanne Davis, came to the festival as a representative for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

She said that she’d only known Darrell for about a year, since her daughter Ally was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

“He came to the hospital room where Ally was lying in her bed,” Davis said, with tears welling up in her eyes. “And then one day he picked her up with a bunch of her friends and took her out for ice cream in a limousine. So just a wonderful man, couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Davis said that her husband, Preston, was also a survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma. Both he and Ally were invited to speak during the fundraiser, just before Darrell went on stage at 8 p.m.

Ally was the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s girl of the year and helped the society raise more than $1.4 million this year.

Davis said that Darrell’s selflessness was one of the things that made this concert — and other benefit concerts that he’d hosted — a success.

“I mean, he’s just always wanting to help. You ask him for something and he’ll come back with even more than what you asked for. So you couldn’t ask for a better person to put on a wonderful concert for a great event,” Davis said.

“And,” she added, “the crowd out here just loves him to death.”

Karen said that, as of 8 p.m. last night, the benefit had raised more than $20,000.

She also said that they were hoping to hold the event again next year.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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