If this year’s New Faces Show at Country Radio Seminar is any gauge, the future of country music is in good hands.
No, I’m serious. I have been to more than 30 of these showcases, and this year’s lineup was one of the strongest that I can remember. Each act, in its own way, knocked it out of the park.
Co-sponsored by the Academy of Country Music and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, this was the first New Faces Show (and CRS convention) held at the Omni Hotel downtown. The Wednesday evening show (Feb. 10) was the culmination of three days of panel discussions, research presentations, radio awards, music showcases and parties.
There were pre-show video presentations by St. Jude and the ACM’s Paul Barnabee and Lisa Lee. The latter pointed out that all five New Faces are nominated for ACM awards this year.
The vivacious Cam kicked off the show with a flawless set. Her pert and rocking Untamed album’s title tune was followed by the furiously blazing “Runaway Train.” Her penetrating, poignant, throbbing and melodic new single, “Mayday,” was her segment’s highlight. She concluded with her plaintive, aching, breakthrough ballad, “Burning House.”
“I’m so proud to be a part of this lineup today,” she told the assembled radio poobahs. “We’ve had a really incredible year thanks to you guys.”
I took schmooze breaks between acts. That meant spotting attendees David Preston, David M. Ross, John Huie, John Esposito, Jon Freeman, John Zarling, Charlie Cook, Charlie Morgan, Bob Kingsley, Bob Doerschuk and Bob Paxman.
Meanwhile, magician Justin Flom, who opened for Cam, was featured in between-acts videos of him delighting and/or flummoxing CRS attendees with his slight-of-hand tricks.
The second New Faces showcasers, Brothers Osborne, came out with guns blazing on the neo-Southern rock gem, “It Ain’t My Fault.” Then “21 Summer” was contrastingly breezy and enchanting. The bedrock barroom country “Loving Me Back” was another cool change of pace.
“I just want to thank you for letting me be a part of the most nerve-racking show of our lives,” said lead singer TJ Osborne. “You’ve treated us with so much respect, and we love you for it.”
Their finale, of course, was the pulse-pounding excitement of “Stay a Little Longer” with John Osborne’s trademark fleet-fingered guitar workout. This set was a star-making performance.
Entre-act schmoozathon #2 involved Dawn Delvo, Greg Green, Fletcher Foster, Royce Risser, Raeanne Rubenstein, Sarah Skates, Bobby Bones, Brandi Simms, Sherod Robertson, Phyllis Stark and Todd Cassetty.
Kelsea Ballerini may be only 22, but she showed real depth for someone who’s only been doing full shows for a year. “Dibs” was youthful and perky, yet “XO” was a frothing rocker and “Peter Pan” is a superbly-written, wise and tuneful tempo tune.
“Thank you for what you’ve done for this song; thank you for what you’ve done for me,” she said in introducing “Love Me Like You Mean It.” “Thank you for the most incredible year. I’m so grateful.”
Rick Murray. Randy Goodman, Eric T. Parker, Granger Smith, Diana Upton Hill, April Kry, Hannah Bethel, Craig Bann, Chuck Dauphin and Allen Brown were on our radar during schmooze break #3.
The set by Old Dominion shone a spotlight on the band’s strong suit—its songwriting. “Snapback” was cheery, churning and anthemic. “Said Nobody” was jaunty and bopping. The lilting, sexy “Nowhere Fast” was a delight. The lyrics of “Song for Another Time” were splendidly clever. “Break Up With Him” still sounds refreshingly ringing and catchy.
Working the room and/or backstage during schmooze break #4 were Scott Hendricks, Karen Tallier, Troy Stephenson, Cindy Watts, Lon Helton, Wynn Varble, Tom Baldrica, Ed Morris, Leslie Fram, Jessica Nicholson and Deborah Evans Price.
The finale slot belonged to the one-of-a-kind, wonderfully inventive Chris Janson. Lean and lanky and wired, he went all over the stage and right into our hearts. He wailed his harmonica on the romping “Back in My Drinkin’ Days.” “White Trash” is a moody ballad about his hillbilly childhood. His new single, “The Power of Positive Drinkin’,” was roaring and stomping.
“Thank you for putting food on my table and feeding my family,” he said sincerely. Then he let his searing, soaring tenor loose on the powerful love ballad “Holdin’ Her.” It was a thrilling vocal performance that drew a standing ovation. He finished with the jovial and drawling, star-making “Buy Me a Boat” and drew a second standing ovation.
Chris summed up the whole roster’s feelings with the shout, “Thank you for making my dreams come true!”
More than 1,100 attended. As I mentioned, this was the first CRS at The Omni. The high-end hotel lived up to its reputation with a first-class banquet featuring grilled shrimp, tender steak medallions, stewed tomato, asparagus spears and mashed potatoes, with pecan chocolate pie as the dessert.
The pre-show cocktail party was sponsored by Big Spark Records in order to showcase Olivia Lane. She pogo-bounced energetically during her uptempo tunes, sang strongly, had a tough little four-piece band and played acoustic guitar, mandolin and tambourine. “I’m insanely positive all the time,” she told the crowd. And she was.
The recipients for the 2016 CRS/Country Aircheck Awards were also announced during the festivities. The winners are:
WUBL/Atlanta (Major Market)
KAJA/San Antonio (Large)
WKSF/Asheville, NC (Small)
Platinum Label: Capitol
Gold Label: Broken Bow
Bruce Logan, KILT/Houston (Major)
Kerry Wolfe, WMIL/Milwaukee (Large)
Buzz Jackson, KIIM/Tucson (Medium)
Dave Michaels, WQHK/Ft. Wayne, IN (Small)
Marci Braun, WUSN/Chicago (Major)
Kimsey Kerr, WSIX/Nashville (Large)
Aaron Michael, WSSL/Greenville (Medium)
Bill Poindexter, WUSY/Chattanooga (Small)
SVP/VP: Royce Risser, UMG Nashville
National: Erik Powell, Big Machine
Tim Pohlman, WUSN/Chicago (Major)
Pam McKay, KASE & KVET/Austin (Large)
Bill McMartin, WSSL & WESC/Greenville (Medium)
Gene Guinn, WBUL/Lexington (Small)
Fitz In The Morning, KKWF/Seattle (Major)
Tige & Daniel, WSIX/Nashville (Large)
Ellis & Bradley, WSSL/Greenville (Medium)
Tim Leary, WUBB/Savannah, GA (Small)
National: The Bobby Bones Show
Regional: Cliff Blake, Columbia
Indie Promo: New Revolution/New Vision
New Face: Rod Phillips, iHeartCountry
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