BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
This year’s edition of the “Team UMG” showcase at Country Radio Seminar was characterized by lots of new faces and new songs.
The event is already one of the coolest things you will ever experience in Music City. A huge chunk of the Capitol/MCA/Mercury/EMI artist roster is presented to the conventioneers in stripped-down, acoustic settings. Each act gets one song, and each is a surprise appearance.
“This show is one of a kind and cannot be duplicated in any way,” said the always-fabulous host Royce Risser. He can say that again. Tune for tune, it ranks as one of the greatest annual concerts given in Nashville. That the 2018 version was so full of shining newcomer moments was the icing on the cake.
“This is the mecca,” said Jordan Davis as he stood center stage at the hallowed Ryman Auditorium, the venue for Tuesday’s lunch-time gala. “This is the first time I’ve ever been on this stage. This is pretty cool. It’s been the best year of my life.”
He introduced the crowd to a rolling, lyrical, evocative album cut titled “Leaving New Orleans.”
“This is my very first time to play the Ryman,” echoed Brandon Lay. “This is my first CSR week. If I don’t freak out now, I’ll be okay for the rest of my life.” Brandon told the crowd that he’d just learned that he is going to be a father. Then he favored the audience with his youthful “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers.”
“This is my third time at this show….my first to play it inside,” quipped new Mercury signee Travis Denning. “It’s exciting, this being my first CRS.” His story song about a fake I.D. was “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs.”
The only newcomer who drew a standing ovation was Kassi Ashton, thanks to her sultry, slow, r&b ballad “The Straw.” She told the capacity crowd, “This is my first CRS. This is my first time on the Ryman stage. I’m trying not to pee my pants.”
A number of established acts introduced new tunes at the gig. Maddie & Tae are newly signed to Mercury. They premiered the languid, bluesy “One Heart to Another.”
Eric Paslay has been silent on radio for the past year. Royce introduced him as “The Jolly Red Giant,” and Eric proved that the moniker was apt with a driving, energetic, soaring and joyous new song called “Young Forever.”
Dierks Bentley introduced his new moustache as well as his terrific new, pulse-quickening single “Woman, Amen.” His band offered way-cool counterpoint vocals. The performance drew a big cheer and a standing ovation.
“I like to do things here that you’re never gonna hear anywhere else,” said Chris Stapleton. Country music’s largest selling current artist drew a standing ovation for his penetrating, hair-raising, blues moaner “There Ain’t No Easy Way,” penned by Darrell Scott. Chris and wife Morgane are expecting twins, which Royce promised would be signed to UMG as “The Stapletwins.”
One of the other two standing ovations went to Brothers Osborne, for their thrilling, propulsive run through of “Shoot Me Straight.” Vince Gill received the other one. He revealed to the audience that a gym teacher had tried to molest him when he was a kid and dedicated his song to all people who are standing up against sexual abuse. His choked-with-emotion, heart-in-throat delivery of “Forever Changed” moved us all deeply.
Another show highlight belonged to ACM & CMA New Artist of the Year Jon Pardi. His “She Ain’t In It” was drawling and aching and wonderfully country. Kip Moore opened “Last Shot” a cappella, which was a super effective use of his raspy growl.
Luke Bryan offered his earnest new single “Most People Are Good,” as well as his new CD’s thumping title tune “What Makes You Country.” Darius Rucker sang the jaunty “For the First Time.”
Keith Urban closed the show with his sincere “Female” and the rapid-fire “Wasted Time,” with which the crowd sang along.
The place was packed throughout the event. Basking in the UMG greatness were Ben Vaughn, B.J. Hill, Bob Paxman, Bobby Young, Jimmy Knight, Jim Allgren, Eric T. Parker, Erich West, David Frasure, Donna Hughes, Sarah Skates, Natalie Osborne, Tom Baldrica and thousands more lucky CRS registrants.