BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
As the Country Radio Seminar swung into its first big day on Thursday (Feb. 26), artists hoping to curry favor with the broadcasters were out in full force. I hadn’t walked more than a few yards into the Renaissance Convention Center when I ran smack into James Carothers. He began his day early by performing for a breakfast at Puckett’s downtown. Next, I spotted Drake White and made a big fuss over his outstanding new single, “It Feels Good.” He told me that unusual percussion sound on it is a suitcase being whacked and that the soul sister heard is actually Carolyn Dawn Johnson.
Not far away, The Cadillac Three, Mickey Gilley and The McCrary Sisters were doing video interviews for grammy.com. In the press room, Love + Theft, Angel Mary & The Tennessee Werewolves, Michael Martin Murphey and A Thousand Horses greeted assorted media reps. Hannah Bethel, Hannah Weeks and Southside Drive were meeting and greeting in the halls.
“You’ve got a lot of people’s hopes and dreams in your hands,” said Vince Gill to an SRO radio crowd in The Ryman Auditorium.
He was one of 16 artists presented by UMG at its sixth annual CRS Ryman showcase. The format here is brilliantly simple. Everyone performs acoustically, one song apiece. The conventioneers are treated to just about every artist on the rosters of UMG’s Mercury, Capitol, MCA and EMI imprints.
We partook of well prepared boxed lunches in our Ryman pews. The crowd was so large that they ran out of food this year. Royce Risser emceed, as chatty and charming as always. “You get to see what we at UMG are so proud of in the most legendary auditorium in the country,” he told the assembled multitude.
First up was Josh Turner with his gentle “Lay Low.”
Kip Moore offered his latest, the raspy and urgent “I’m to Blame.”
Kacey Musgraves introduced her new single “Biscuits,” which shipped to radio that very day. “It all began here for this artist,” said Royce of Musgraves. She pinned our ears back at this exact event in 2012 by introducing “Merry Go ‘Round,” brought down the house with “Follow Your Arrow” in 2013 and look at her now. Look, indeed: She wore a cute, ruffled, country-girl party dress and performed barefooted on the Ryman stage.
Canaan Smith introduced his ballad “Bronco,” written for and about his brother who died in a car wreck.
The always riveting David Nail was heart stopping on “Home,” a song written in the wake of his grandmother’s recent passing.
Celebrating its 15th anniversary as a group Little Big Town drew a massive cheer for their flawlessly executed “Girl Crush.”
Easton Corbin did his current hit “Baby Be My Love Song.”
Chris Stapleton blew everybody away with “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore,” drawing the afternoon’s first standing ovation. “I just got chills,” said Royce.
Mickey Guyton was introduced at this CRS presentation two years ago. Her long-delayed ballad “Better Than You Left Me” is taking off at radio, but she instead performed a jaw-dropping newer song, “Nice Things.” Standing far back from the mic, she harmonized amid her band members with a voice so powerful it needed no amplification. In a word, “Wow.”
Dierks Bentley was a triple treat, since his accompanists on “Say You Do” were Jon Randall and Jessi Alexander.
Brothers Osborne introduced their March 9 single “Stay a Little Longer,” and its virtuoso guitar finale earned them the day’s second standing ovation. Essential that you catch these guys live.
Billy Currington offered a bopping “Don’t It.”
Darius Rucker’s “Southern Style” was strummy and jangly and upbeat.
Eric Church surprised and impressed everyone with his striking new song about Alzheimer’s, “I Know Who He Is.”
Then it was time for Vince Gill. The Country Music Hall of Famer drew a standing ovation by just walking on stage. Royce called him, “the greatest ambassador country music has and will ever see.”
Gill told the crowd about releasing his first record 40 years ago, which was played by his local radio station. “What you did for me from Day One is, you gave me a belief in myself,” he told the radio folks. “I’m not gonna quit sending you records,” he added, before delivering his classic “Whenever You Come Around.” After it, he got another s.o.
Keith Urban has missed some Team UMG at the Ryman events in the past because of his American Idol commitments. But he was there this year, introducing a super new tune titled “John Cougar, John Deere and John 3:16.” Eric Church returned to the stage to sing “Raise ‘Em Up” with Urban, who was also booked to showcase at the Ryman at midnight last night.
Lady Antebellum wasn’t at the UMG show, but the group has been very much present for CRS. The trio won a Humanitarian award on Wednesday morning, performed on the Opry’s CRS show that evening and did a panel discussion with Tom Roland on Thursday morning at the convention.
Also present and accounted for were such industry folks as Martha Moore, Bri Stewart, Bob Doerschuk, Jeff Walker, Jewly Hight, Jewel Coburn, Courtney White, Skip Bishop, Jerry Phillips, Susan Niles, Lee Ann Photoglo, Walter Campbell, Steve Lowery and Jason Morris.
Larry Boothby was among those who caught the Garth Brooks CRS show at Marathon Music Works Wednesday night (2/25). “You know Garth, he does things right,” he observed about the superstar’s full-band, class-production presentation.
Lee Brice kicked the week off with a sold-out Tuesday (2/24) concert at the Ryman, along with Maddie & Tae and Tyler Farr. The Warner Bros. party at the Rosewall on Wednesday (2/25) featured Brett Eldredge, Hunter Hayes, Jana Kramer, Ashley Monroe, Blake Shelton, Dan + Shay, Charlie Worsham and more.
Others who have already sung for the conventioneers include The Oak Ridge Boys, Eli Young Band, Mo Pitney, RaeLynn, Mel Tillis, Lucy Angel, James Otto, Lucas Hoge, Chase Bryant, Austin Webb, Waterloo Revival and LoCash.