The Party Boy had a full slate of activities on Tuesday (June 7), and the CMA Music Festival hasn’t even officially started yet.
This is largely thanks to industry events, rather than the fan-oriented festivities to come. We began at Fannie Mae Dees Park (a.k.a. “Dragon Park”), where the National Association of Talent Directors (NATD) held its annual picnic. This is a warm. casual affair, with all homemade food and a friendly vibe you can’t beat.
I arrived at noon, well before most of the 50+ attendees showed up an hour later. Other early picnic people included Rod Harris, Randy Perkins, Dean Unkefer, Fred Vail, current NATD prez Steve Tolman, Ed Salamon, Dave Barton, Ray Shelide, aspiring media worker Kacie Baugus, Amber Robb, Dick Beacham and Zach Farnum.
Bonnie Sugarman was all aglow about the launch of Dolly Parton’s new tour. She bristles when Dolly is diminished by the “country” label used by talent buyers. “She is an international superstar,” sez Bonnie. “Her audience is not just country. I tell them it’s like they’re getting Cher or Bette Midler or Streisand.” Well said.
We couldn’t tarry long there. The City of Hope Celebrity Softball Game beckoned. We arrived at First Tennessee Park a little after 1 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, timed for the Green Carpet walk along the third base line.
Scotty McCreery, David Nail, Brett Young, Bobby Bones, Bret Michaels and former major league pitcher Barry Zito have all played ball all their lives. But the rest? Not so much. Which is what makes it fun. As Opry team coach Pete Fisher put it, “The second this becomes about softball, we’re sunk.”
“Mostly, I like to watch it,” said American Idol champ Nick Fradiani. “Growing up, I played basketball.”
“I played basketball, not softball,” said Cassadee Pope. “But I’m pretty competitive. I’m just going to try and hit the ball and not psych myself out.”
“I haven’t played since I was 10,” admitted Mickey Guyton. “I’ll just run. I ran track, and I’m fast. All I have to do is get from home plate to first base.” In her arms was Charlie, her Chihuahua mix rescue dog. “He’s my Security. In fact, he’s my whole team’s Security.” She was playing on the iHeart Radio squad.
“I’m not a huge baseball fan,” said Jamie Lynn Spears. “Besides cheating, my strategy for this game is to just not embarrass myself.”
“I played in the band in high school,” said Craig Wayne Boyd. “But my wife played fast-pitch softball, so I practiced with her.”
Vince Gill, playing his 21st Celebrity Softball Game, was having no part of the Green Carpet. He was conserving his energy in the dugout and pointing to his ailing knees. He was pitching, after all.
But gamely greeting the media were Bucky Covington, A Thousand Horses, Danielle Bradbery, Chris Lane, Tristan McIntosh, Mark Wills and more. Others booked to hit the diamond included Lauren Alaina, Jessie James Decker, Locash, RaeLynn and Nashville’s Chip Esten and Jonathan Jackson.
By the way, it is strongly rumored that the fifth season of the Nashville TV show is going to be picked up by CMT. Perhaps they’ll announce this during the channel’s awards show on Wednesday night.
Lots of other stars had news to share. McIntosh was still tingling from her reception at her first appearance on the Opry. She sang “Wagon Wheel” with Darius Rucker and brought down the house.
Spears will be starring in an hour-long reality TV special called When the Lights Go Out on TLC on June 26 and co-wrote the recent Jana Kramer hit “I Got the Boy.” Guyton’s follow-up to “Better Than You Left Me” is its “answer” lyric, “Heartbreak Song,” due next week.
Fradiani is issuing a pop CD on Big Machine on Aug. 5. Nail is releasing Fighter as his next CD on July 15, describing it as “the most personal of my life.” Bones is promoting his new memoir, I’m Not Lonely If You’re Reading This Book, which cuts quite close to the, er, bone.
Working the room were Terry Bumgarner, Scott Stem, Dixie Owen, Rick Murray, Heather Conley, Dennis Banka and new artist Wesley Davis. Having it both ways is Savannah Keyes (pronounced “Kize”). The vivacious, young, smart Utah native is covering the week for Radio Disney. Plus, she’s been signed as an artist by Republic, is being produced by Jay DeMarcus and is performing on Friday. So she gets to see every side of this delightfully crazy week.
Bill Cody and Lorianne Crook co-hosted the game. I teased Lorianne about being a lovely ex Soundette for The Nashville Sounds when she was a youngster. “I can’t fit into the shorts anymore,” she lamented.
Before the slugging started, City of Hope patient Aaron Yniguez, who is 8, met his stem cell donor for the first time. Yolanda Nava saved the leukemia victim’s life. When she surprised him on the pitcher’s mound, everyone was touched.
Trisha Yearwood sang the National Anthem. Scott Borchetta presented the Champion of Hope Award to Bruce Hinton, who founded this charity event.
The two teams represented iHeart Radio and the Grand Ole Opry. I believe they battled to a draw, despite the Opry team having Zito as its “ringer.” Or maybe iHeart Radio won by a run. It doesn’t matter: The event raised more than $200,000.
Went home. Changed out of the sweaty softball clothes. Headed out again. Traffic going downtown at 5:15 p.m. crept along at a crawl. But duty called.
You see, APA is on the move in more ways than one. The talent agency is growing its client base in leaps and bounds, has added agents and threw a party to celebrate its glamorous new penthouse headquarters at One Nashville Place (150 Fourth Avenue North).
Charlie Daniels, Deborah Allen, Lee Roy Parnell, Benita Hill, Phil Vassar, Crystal Gayle and other stars mingled at the soiree.
The agency also represents such greats as Dolly, Big Smo, BlackHawk, Dailey & Vincent, Keith Anderson, Lee Greenwood, Maggie Rose, Sawyer Brown, Rob Baird, Chris Cagle, Don Williams, David Lee Murphy, Take 6, The Rippingtons, Clint Black and Travis Tritt.
The penthouse office suite was formerly occupied by a law firm, which might explain its sleekly moderne, gray-on-gray décor. Checking it out were David Corlew, David Malloy, Dave Brainard, John Dorris, John Marks, Becky Harris, Paula Szeigis, Jenny Tolman, Neal Spielberg, Bebe Evans, Jody Williams, Charlie Monk and gracious host Steve Lassiter, plus Sugarman and Shelide, spiffed up and out of their picnic duds.
We snacked on crab cakes, fried chicken, deviled eggs, steak & biscuits, various veggies and assorted chilled fruits.
Onward. At almost this same time, the Warner Music Group staged a last-minute gig at the new Aurora Studio in the lobby level of the Pinnacle skyscraper on Third Avenue South. When summoned by this company, we go without question.
We arrived just in time to hear WMG’s John Esposito say, “We could not be one iota happier than to have RaeLynn join the Warner family. There is a magic about this gal that when she walks in a room, you know she’s special. It’s these people who have fairy dust sprinkled on them who you want to be involved with. Because they can change other people’s lives.
“Blake Shelton, who is this really interesting guy on a national TV show with a red chair and a buzzer, is taking her on his fall tour.”
Raelynn, Espo added, is already responsible for 850,000 digital sales and 75 million streams of her music. Comments Blake, “Her songs are phenomenal and are a step ahead of everybody else.”
Wearing a sparkly silver WB logo on her pink t-shirt, Raelynn signed her contract right there in front of us. I can’t recall an actual contract signing during Fan Fair or CMA Fest ever. Leave it to Espo.
“I’m kinda nervous,” she said. “I’ve never done this before,” added the label boss.
“I moved here—this August, it will be four years ago,” she told the crowd. “It’s not overnight success. You have to work hard. You have to write every day. You have to make connections. It’s so cool to be here and see everybody who has supported me the whole way. To do this has been the most magical thing. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. I promise I will work my ass off.”
Blake’s presence at the event was no coincidence. She said that he gave her support when she needed it most. As a teen, she weaseled her way past a security guard and forged her mother’s signature to audition for The Voice. Blake turned his chair around for her and promised her he’d make her a superstar.
“If it hadn’t been for you, I’d have given up,” Raelynn told him.
She played the upbeat “Your Heart” for the crowd, then her atmospheric debut WB single, “Love Triangle.” Two guitarists and a percussionist backed her.
“We are so proud of this whole project,” said Scott Hendricks. He played the finished version of the single, as well as the tempo tune “Wild Horse,” over the venue’s sound system.
Listening with all ears were Ben Vaughn, Wes Vause, Chris Keaton, B.J. Hill, Lon Helton, R.J. Curtis, Kerry Hanson, Julie Boos, and Aurora owner David Griffin, as well as Raelynn’s producers and songwriting collaborators Nicolle Galyon and Jimmy Robbins.
Raelynn is from Texas. Her full name is Rachael Lynn Woodward Davis. She was previously signed to Republic/Valory, but the label never released a full CD of her music. In February she married financial advisor Joshua Davis, who celebrated on Tuesday along with the rest of us.
WMG hors d’oeuvres included beef tacos, drunken peaches, mini sandwiches and veggie comfits. Plus, there was a table at the back of the room holding masses of candies in all shapes, sizes and colors.
As night fell, the music continued downtown. Alan Jackson serenaded fans, unplugged, at Acme Feed & Seed. Jason Aldean entertained from a stage in the middle of Broadway. Dustin Lynch, Canaan Smith, Rodney Atkins, Craig Campbell and LANco played at Fifth & Demonbreun.
Out at the Opry, Kimberly Williams Paisley was autographing copies of her new Alzheimer’s related book, Where the Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only to Find Her Again.
And on we go…..