BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
The climax of Country Radio Seminar is the annual New Faces Show, a make-or-break presentation of the year’s most promising fledglings.
It is a tense occasion for the performers, since this is the first time that the all-important radio programmers will judge their showmanship. Careers have both soared and crashed as a result of this showcase.
“I know how prestigious this show is, and I don’t take it lightly,” said New Face Frankie Ballard. He has a separated shoulder and has not been playing his guitar at recent concerts. But he was determined to strap it on for this gig. So, shoulder or no shoulder, he showcased his guitar chops. And how.
The New Face who walked away from the show a star was probably Eric Paslay. The singer-songwriter was both an artistic success and an audience favorite.
Paslay’s ballad “She Don’t Love You” was performed with clear-throated vocal finesse and was one of the most honest sounding efforts of the evening. “Song About a Girl” was groovy and funky. “Keep on Fallin” was a snappy, crackling country rocker.
“Thank you for changing my world, and for this song,” said Paslay introducing “Friday Night.” This good-time rocking hit, with its chewy, tasty rhythm groove gave him a joyous, whiz-bang finale.
The second-best New Face presentation was by Maddie & Tae. In fact, considering how truly new and how young they are, this was in some ways the night’s most impressive performance. Unlike the others on the bill, this duo doesn’t even have a full album yet.
Their vocal harmonies were flawless: These women have obviously rehearsed rigorously. The slight drawback of this was that they seemed to concentrate on delivering a perfect presentation, rather than engaging the audience.
Their breakthrough hit, “Girl in a Country Song,” was feisty, bouncy and good natured. “Fly,” the current single, was wafting, airy and lovely. The duo concluded with the warm, comforting and super-accomplished “After the Storm Blows Through.”
Madison Marlow and Taylor Dye are barely out of their teens, but they grew up right before our eyes that night. Good for them.
Frankie Ballard was my third favorite. He not only showed off his flashy guitar skills, he worked the stage like a pro and looked like a star in his leather jacket. He gave them the hits “Sunshine and Whiskey” and “Helluva Life,” drawing a big ovation from the crowd.
“I was a nobody from Battle Creek, Mich., before you played this one,” he said of “Helluva Life.” “I can’t tell you how good it feels to play this song and have people know it, and I thank country radio for that. If I wasn’t here [at CRS], I’d be singing it in some honky-tonk in Detroit. So I thank you for that.”
His finale was the raucous, Motor City rocker “Young and Crazy.” This guy was the very definition of a modern young country star.
The act with the most “buzz” leading into the New Faces show was probably Sam Hunt. His sound was full of electronic washes and programmed percussion, with auto-tuned, processed vocals. “Leave the Night On” and “House Party” led him to come off the stage and wade through the crowd at the front tables.
With its mix of spoken-word passages and melodic segments, “Take Your Time” was Hunt’s best and most evocative effort. He ended with the finely honed “Break Up in a Small Town.”
Hunt earned the Worst Wardrobe Award with his long gray t-shirt and a face-obscuring ballcap with a peak so high it looked like it belonged in a Coneheads skit. You’re in trouble when your lead guitarist knows how to visually present better than you do.
Also wearing a ballcap was the finale New Face, Cole Swindell. This caused us to note that Ballard was the lone male act not wearing this hat, which has replaced the Stetson as country’s uniform: Is it just a coincidence that he also came across as the best looking?
Whereas Hunt was at least sonically innovative bro country; Swindell seemed merely routine bro country. In fact, his presentation was practically a Xerox of a Luke Bryan show, from the hat to the jeans to the belt buckle to the hip-thrust stage moves.
Swindell was another New Face with a heavily processed vocal. He sounded one way when speaking, then as soon as he started to sing, the auto-tuning and triple tracking kicked in on his voice. And even with all the technology, he still sounded just barely on pitch.
Still, Swindell’s renditions of such favorites as “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight,” “Chillin It” and “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey” were all crowd pleasers.
The 2015 New Faces Show was staged in the main hall of the old Renaissance Convention Center on Friday (Feb. 27). Video clips throughout the night reminded us that the CRS convention is moving to the Omini Hotel next year. So we’ve eaten our last rubber-chicken banquet in this room.
As usual, Music Row turned out in full force for this annual extravaganza. Working the room were Tom Luteran, Tom Baldrica, Bobby Young, Bob Paxman, Rob Simbeck, Charlie Morgan, Charlie Monk, Chuck Dauphin, Clay Myers, Jessica Myers, Jessica Turri and Travis Moon of St. Jude’s Hospital, Frank Rogers, Earle Simmons, Patrick Clifford, John Ozier, Preshus Tomes, Jack Purcell, Gary Overton, Shawn Carnes of Nasville Underground Entertainment, Don Cusic, Phyllis Stark, Donna Hughes, Todd Cassetty, Sharilyn Pettus, Lorie Hollabaugh, Vernell Hackett, Andrew Capps, Ed Morris, Darin Murphy, Ken Tucker, the triple monikered Deborah Evans Price, Wynne Vanessa Adams and Allison Brown Jones, plus just about everybody else you’ve ever met in this business.
Additionally, the 2015 CRS/Country Aircheck winners were revealed throughout the evening. Winners include:
Station Of The Year: WUSN/Chicago (Major Market); WSM-FM/Nashville (Large Market); WIVK/Knoxville (Medium Market); WUSY/Chattanooga (Small Market)
Market Manager/GM: Mick Anselmo, KMNB/Minneapolis (Major Market); Dan Endom, WSIX/Nashville (Large Market); Tim Feagan, WBCT/Grand Rapids (Medium Market); Jared Stehney, WUSY/Chattanooga (Small Market)
OM/PD: Tim Roberts, WYCD/Detroit (Major Market); Charlie Cook, WKDF & WSM-FM/Nashville (Large Market); Sue Wilson, WQMX/Akron (Medium Market); Gator Harrison, WUSY/Chattanooga, TN (Small Market)
MD: Angie Ward, WUBL/Atlanta (Major Market); Bob Pickett, KASE/Austin (Large Market); Hoss Michaels, KXKT/Omaha (Medium Market); Bill Poindexter, WUSY/Chattanooga (Small Market)
Personality/Show: Ben & Matt, KNIX/Phoenix (Major Market); Amy Paige, WSIX/Nashville (Large Market); Buzz Jackson, KIIM/Tucson (Medium Market); Dex & Mo, WUSY/Chattanooga (Small Market)
National/Syndicated Personality: The Bobby Bones Show
Platinum Label: Big Machine
Gold Label: Curb
VP/Promotion: Jack Purcell, Big Machine
Director/National Promotion: Katie Bright, WMN
Regional Director or Manager/Promotion: Alex Valentine, Big Machine
Independent Promotion Team or Executive: GrassRoots
“New Face Of Country” Professional: Kristen Johnson, Republic Nashville