Bobby Karl Works UMG’s Luncheon at The Ryman

UMG Nashville artists and staff at the 2011 CRS Universal Music Group Nashville show at the Ryman on March 2, 2011. Photo: Peyton Hoge

Chapter 361

If Country Radio Seminar is about Country – that is, music – more than it is about current Radio – that is, pseudo science – then its showcases should be its heart and soul.

With that in mind, the other record labels are going to be hard pressed to top the Universal extravaganza staged Wednesday (3/2) at the Ryman Auditorium. Superstar Lionel Richie capped the afternoon. Legendary Vince Gill drew tears and a standing ovation. Twenty-one artists dazzled the crowd, including Lee Ann Womack, Sugarland, Josh Turner, Gary Allan and Billy Currington. Everyone sang with acoustic accompaniment. The Ryman, as you know, is a superb sounding room for acoustic music, so it was quite an afternoon. Here’s the countdown:

1. Sugarland flew in especially for the gig from mid-tour, and flew out immediately afterward. The duo’s performance of “Little Miss” was simply stunning.

2. Canaan Smith staged his debut performance for the label and for country radio at the legendary Ryman. “No pressure, bro,” quipped show host Royce Risser. Smith nailed “We Got Us.” “He did not cave to the pressure,” Risser correctly observed.

3. Dani Flowers also staged her debut. Frankly, she sounded terrified, but “You Learn Something New Every Day” is a wonderfully written song.

4. Kip Moore, a previous DisCovery Award winner in this magazine, introduced his superb, wildly catchy single “Mary Was the Marrying Kind.” Honestly, it was one of the only songs still on my lips hours after the show. “I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be on this stage,” he said. You belonged there, pal.

5. Louisiana sisters Coldwater Jane offered their ballad “Tough as Nails.” Risser invited them to the stage out of order, so they were a mite rattled.

6. Vivacious Mallary Hope delivered “Butter on Her Wedding Ring” with panache.

7. Lost Highway’s Hayes Carll charmed us with a laconic country weeper titled “Chances Are.”

8. Randy Montana was soulful and soaring on his ought-to-be-a-hit single “1,000 Faces.”

9. “She’s an amazing entertainer, and she’s nuts,” said Risser of Laura Bell Bundy. She enters the studio this Friday to record her fiery “(There Goes) Another Piece of Me.”

10.  Josh Kelley was sweetly emotional on an ode to his daughter called “Naleigh Moon.”

11. Easily one of the show’s highlights was “Look it Up” by Ashton Shepherd. That gal is a blast. By the way, she announced that she is pregnant with her second child at the gig.

12. I am a huge fan of the lead singer’s cool, dusty singing voice, so “Just Don’t Tell Me the Truth” was a winner for the Randy Rogers Band. “Bring back country music!” he proclaimed. Another reason to love him.

13.  Electrifying David Nail delivered “The Sound of a Million Dreams” with white-hot, blue-eyed soul. This boy can sing.

14. Easton Corbin is definitely on a roll. He was wonderfully countrified on his current “I Can’t Love You Back.”

15. Billy Currington gave a bluesy groove to “Let Me Down Easy.”

16. Gary Allan had vocal surgery last year, but is now recovered, as he proved with his performance of his much-loved 1999 oldie “Smoke Rings in the Dark.”

17. Josh Turner was shimmering and sensuous in his delivery of his remake of “I Wouldn’t Be a Man.” They just don’t write songs that great in Nashville anymore.

18. The supremely expressive Lee Ann Womack dropped jaws with a fantastically written gospel plea with its “Send it on Down” hook.

19. Jamey Johnson was stark and all-too-brief doing Merle Haggard’s “You Take Me for Granted.”

20. “I’ve been on MCA Records longer than anybody on the entire staff,” said Vince Gill, before his lump-in-throat performance of “If I Die a Drinkin’ Man.” His overt emotionalism also shined on “Threaten Me with Heaven,” and drew a standing ovation from the starstruck crowd. “What a stud,” quoth Risser.

21. Surprise guest Lionel Richie got a standing ovation before he ever sang a note. He sat at the piano and rolled back the years with a flawless rendition of 1984’s “Stuck on You.” Darius Rucker entered from stage right and the two began to duet on the song, sensationally. This, too, drew a standing ovation. “It’s absolutely a pleasure to be here,” said Lionel. No, sir, the pleasure was all ours.

Invited guests included Mike Hammond, Mike Sistad, John Huie, Jon Freeman, Jon Anthony, Jody Williams, Will Byrd, David Preston, Ken Levitan, Coyote Calhoun, Dale Bobo, Clay Bradley, Brandi Simms, Sherod Robertson, Perry Howard, Teri Brown, Jewel Coburn, Jason Morris, Thomas Cain and, natch, UMG’s Luke Lewis, Tom Lord, Beverly Keel and Brian Wright.

That night at 10 p.m., it was the roster of Warner/Reprise in the spotlight. The label chose to have its performers salute Motown songs. Frankie Ballard selected Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” but Brett Eldredge “cheated” by doing “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” by Lou Rawls. (It was issued in 1976 on Philadelphia International, not Motown.)

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