Bobby Karl Works The 2017 New Faces Of Country Music Show

Pictured (L-R): William Michael Morgan, Drake White, Granger Smith, Jon Pardi, Maren Morris. Photo: CRS Official/Twitter


Chapter 556

The 2017 edition of the New Faces Show was the event’s most “country” collection of talent in years.

This annual capstone of the Country Radio Seminar convention has been showcasing up-and-comers, hopefuls and future superstars since 1970. This year, it was a celebration of neo-traditionalism as William Michael Morgan, Jon Pardi, Drake White and Granger Smith offered their various styles of twang and drawl. Even show closer Maren Morris eschewed the drum loops, electronic effects and auto-tune of her album’s sound to deliver a rootsy performance.

This year’s New Faces Show took place Friday evening, Feb. 24, at the Omni Hotel’s spacious Broadway Ballroom. The banquet meal was a pecan-encrusted chicken quarter on a bed of parsley-pureed mashed potatoes with zucchini, carrot and tomato sides and berried chocolate tarts for dessert.

My dining companions included such media mavens as Deborah Evans Price, Troy Stephenson, Chuck Dauphin, Lorie Hollabaugh, Eric T. Parker, Bob Paxman and Ed Morris. After the yummy chow, we turned our attentions to the main event, the artists doing their utmost to impress the radio tastemakers.

Drake White performs. Photo: CRS Official/Twitter

The evening belonged to Drake White, who led off. This Alabama-bred fellow never delivers less than 100%, and his crackling performance on Friday was no exception. He was saucy, sassy and drawling on the rollicking “It Feels Good” as he opened his set.

“We are ‘living the dream’ today, because of y’all; thank-you so much,” Drake said as he tore into “Livin’ the Dream.” He invested it with immense energy and passion. Then came the even more intense, relentlessly driving “Heartbeat.” He closed with his torrid love ballad “Makin’ Me Look Good Again,” and was rewarded with a standing ovation.

“You won’t see a better act tonight,” I advised Miss Mary. At first, I was perplexed that this powerhouse performer was the opener. But you know what? At New Faces, this is actually the slot you want. While Drake sang, the place was packed to capacity with 1,300 still reasonably sober and super influential radio people. By the time Maren closed the show a couple of hours later, the ballroom was almost half empty.

Second up was William Michael Morgan. This tall, handsome youngster is an “old-school” vocalist. His stone-country delivery of the mellow, mid-tempo “Vinyl” suited the lyric’s old-fashioned values perfectly. The down-home, sincere, working-class salute “Beer Drinker” was even better.

“I Know Who He Is” was a heart-tugging, inspirational ballad. He introduced his lilting new single, “Missing,” a two-step, then closed with his No. 1 hit, the swirling, atmospheric and ultra romantic “I Met a Girl.” “Thank you: God bless country music!” stated William in closing.

The 23 year-old Mississippi native had a somewhat awkward, gangly stage presence, like a country boy plucked from a farm field and put into the spotlight. It made him seem warmly charming and endearing.

By contrast, Granger Smith is the ultimate showboating extrovert. The Texan opened with the romping “If the Boot Fits.” Then, his cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” segued into the churning, extended jam of “Backroad Song,” which was packed with personality.

Granger Smith’s Earl Dibbles, Jr. Photo: CRS Official/Twitter

Granger next changed into the costume of his redneck alter ego “Earl Dibble Jr.” and reemerged waving an oversized “Yee Yee” flag. Flaunting his full-bore, white-trash persona in overalls, he held up a guitar reading “Dip” on its back, offered a two-handed, beer-spray celebratory drink and stripped to his waist while performing “Country Boy Love.” The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Also sublimely country was Jon Pardi. He was boyishly bopping on “Cowboy Hat” and appropriately drawling on “She Ain’t In It.” By this time, a large mosh pit had gathered for him in front of the stage. Like several of those who preceded him, he shook hands with those closest to him.

The California native had a sunny, optimistic quality throughout his set. He closed with back-to-back “boot” songs. His rolling, swaying big hit “Head Over Boots” was followed by the choppy, rhythmic “Dirt on My Boots.”

Petite, vivacious Maren Morris closed the show. She opened with her rumbling stomper “80s Mercedes,” punctuated by her handclaps and ad-libbed shouts. One of the big highlights of her set was her new single, a yearning, elegant, tuneful and super compelling ballad titled “I Could Use a Love Song.”

“Thank you for your support of new music and new artists,” said the singer-songwriter. “We couldn’t do it without you.”

The Texas native offered her hugely popular, Grammy-winning rouser “My Church” to great applause. Her closing “party song” was the wry, tongue-in-cheek and high-spirited “Rich.” The crowd gave the reigning CMA New Artist of the Year winner the evening’s final standing ovation.

Abetting the performances, the ACM’s Lisa Lee and Ben Vaughn presented that organization’s radio award winners, and Charlie Morgan, Lon Helton and Chuck Aly announced their Country Aircheck radio winners. There was also a salute to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a number of amusing video interludes and an “In Memoriam” segment honoring those in the country industry who passed away during the past year.

William Michael Morgan. Photo: CRS Official/Twitter

John Esposito, John Briggs, Mike Dungan, Mike Sistad, Rob Simbeck, Bobby Young, Tom Lord, Todd Cassetty, Preshus Tomes Harris, Autumn House Tallant, Travis Rice, Royce Risser, Rick Murray, R.J. Curtis, Paul Barnabee, Scott Hendricks, Daniel Hill, Maurice Miner, Phyllis Stark, Jim Catino, Ken Robold, Capucine Monk, Kos Weaver and Duane Clark were among those working the radio room.

In the past, the New Faces Show has helped to launch such stars as Alabama, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Vince Gill, Randy Travis, Faith Hill, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Patty Loveless and Blake Shelton. More than 300 New Faces artists have been showcased to date. We added five more worthy names to that long list on Friday night.


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