Siblings Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Ashley Williams and Jay Williams hosted the fifth annual Dance Party to End ALZ on Sunday, November 13 at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon. Apple Music’s Beats 1 “Today’s Country” radio host Kelleigh Bannen emceed the nostalgic event, which raised $525,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association research grant program.
The ’90s-themed night featured performances from Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley’s ‘90s tribute band Hot Country Knights, Tracy Lawrence, Jay Allen from Season 22 of The Voice, Kelleign Bannen, Melinda Doolittle, Lindsay Ell, and Charles Esten. Bannen also surprised the crowd with an appearance by *NSYNC’s Chris Kirkpatrick, who joined her for a performance of the boy band’s hit “I Want You Back.”
“Since 2017, we’ve funded eight grants,” Kimberly Williams-Paisley shared with Country Now. “We’ve raised 1.3 million before this year, and we span the gamut in research that all the projects are vetted through the Alzheimer’s Association, and then they bring us options and we get to choose from those options things that we’re most excited about. It is such an exciting time for Alzheimer’s research. There’s so much just on the brink and there’s so many answers that are coming really soon, and we’re really excited to be a part of that and funding that research.”
When she initially organized the event, she wanted it to be something fun. “When you exercise your heart, you’re exercising your brain. So we wanted everyone to dance and have fun, and we wanted to have the kind of party that our mom would’ve loved. So that’s the goal. We just want everyone to come and have a blast and then raise much-needed money for research.”
Before taking the stage, the performers spoke to Country Now about how Alzheimer’s disease has impacted them personally.
Host Kelleigh Bannen dedicated the night to her grandmother. “She served in the Women’s Army Corps. She met my grandfather during the war overseas during World War II and the last 10, 12 years of her life, she suffered from dementia and it was painful. It’s so painful for the person going through it. It’s so confusing. It’s so painful for the family around, and I’m just so hopeful that the work that we’re doing tonight and the work that the Alzheimer’s Association is doing overall will change so many futures in regards to Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
90s country star Tracy Lawrence joined the Dance Party to End ALZ for the first time this year but has supported the Alzheimer’s Association for several years due to his personal connection. “My grandmother passed away from the disease after an eight to 10-year decline.”
Nashville star Charles Esten volunteers with the organization Musicians On Call and has seen first-hand what music can do for patients with Alzheimer’s. “I always think of it like you walk into a room that’s in black and white and the guitar is that warm caramel color and then you start playing it and slowly the color comes back into the room, the color comes back to the patient’s face… it’s the music itself, the vibrations, the notes, the waves that hit them and bring them back to a place.”
Although singer Melinda Doolittle hasn’t experienced Alzheimer’s directly, her friendship with the Williams sisters enlightened her about the disease. “Kim and Ashley are some of my favorite humans who exist and I didn’t know a lot about Alzheimer’s before meeting them and hearing their stories and hearing about their mom and I think it blew me away. I think I didn’t even know that Alzheimer’s was terminal. I think I didn’t understand how much it wreaks havoc on the human, but also their caretakers and their family.”
Accompanied by Wildhorse Saloon’s house band Three Lane, throwback performances from the era included:
- Brad Paisley
- Vince Gill’s “Liza Jane” and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart”
- Hot Country Knights
- Travis Tritt’s “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” and a medley of 90s hits ending with Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like A Woman”
- Tracy Lawrence
- His own “Sticks and Stones,” “Time Marches On” and “Better Man, Better Off”
- Jay Allen
- Toby Keith’s “Should’ve Been a Cowboy”
- Kelleigh Bannen:
- *NSYNC’s “I Want You Back” with special guest Chris Kirkpatrick
- Melinda Doolittle
- Brooks and Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”
- Lindsay Ell
- Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”
- Charles Esten
- Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
In true ‘90s style, the event’s tables were decorated with inflatable portable phones, neon bracelets and Sour Patch Kids candy, while fans had the opportunity to take photos at a retro photo booth, complete with props from the era. Artists dressed in their finest ‘90s fashion, from Charles Esten’s take on Kurt Cobain to Melinda Doolittle’s Poetic Justice ensemble.
At the end of the night, all the artists joined Paisley on stage for Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee,” complete with a line dance. The Williams’ siblings encouraged the crowd to support the cause, and shared their own family experience with their mom, Linda, who passed away with Alzheimer’s in 2016. “For our fifth Dance Party to End ALZ, we raised $525,000, making it our most successful year to date!” said event founder Kimberly Williams-Paisley in a press release. “After losing our mom to Alzheimer’s six years ago, my siblings and I became relentless in our pursuit to advance Alzheimer’s research toward methods of treatment, prevention and ultimately, a cure. With the Alzheimer Association’s help, and the continued support of our generous sponsors, attendees, and performers, I know one day we will achieve our goal of a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.”
Many of the artists who have been affected by the impact of Alzheimer’s on caregivers shared with Country Now their advice for people who are experiencing it for the first time.
“Just give yourself permission to not do it perfectly. Give yourself permission to be sad,” says Bannen. “Delight in the small moments. There is still a sweetness in getting to connect in moments here and there. I think that’s the thing that you know about this disease is you can be in the moment for brief little bits, and those are so powerful and so precious.”
Lawrence shared that although he had the resources to build a support system for his grandmother, he was in denial for a long time. “I think it’s important that you understand what the disease is and how it affects people and just what to expect from the decline toward the ladder end toward the later stages of the disease. I know they would have to strap her down on the bed at night cause she would wake up and think she was 17 years old and she would fall and break her hip. So there’s a lot of things that you need to understand about how the decline is and how serious it is and just what their emotional state is. And I guess it’s so hard to prepare yourself for it. Cause seeing somebody that you love that you have a deeper relationship with, literally go away where they don’t know you anymore is extremely painful. And it was hard on all of us but the family rallied together and we did as much as we could to make that later stage of her life as easy as possible. But it’s a devastating disease to watch. It’s very emotionally painful for everybody involved.”
Ashley Williams encourages caregivers to use the resources available from the Alzheimer’s Association. “One thing that I really love about the Alzheimer’s Association is not only are they working towards a cure, but they’re also providing resources for caregivers. And there were many times that we utilized their 24 hour hotline and local resources and it made such a huge difference to us as a family.”
For more information about the Alzheimer’s Association, visit alz.org or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.