BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
Music Row’s much revered sense of community is bolstered by a number of brotherhood-building gatherings, several of which occur during this season.
The annual Grammy Block Party went AWOL this spring, but Fan Fair Week has brought back the CAA Barbecue (Monday, June 4), the NATD Picnic (Tuesday, June 5) and the 20th annual SunTrust Hot Dog Day (Thursday, June 7). The last-named featured tunes from singer-songwriters Kate Bowen, Parker Welling and Jason Sever, plus a mingling T-Rac mascot.
Events such as these bring together citizens from throughout our show-biz community. And then there is the CMA’s hospitality suite at Nissan Stadium during the organization’s 47th CMA Music Festival. This is a music-biz schmooze center where fellowship reigns.
Industry fabulons working the room there on the fest’s opening eve (Thursday, June 7) included Rob Phillips, Tinti Moffatt, Sherod Robertson, Dallas Gregory, Lisa Harless, Bill Wence, Pat Collins, Dennis Banka, Nathan Pyle, Biff Watson, Barry Coburn, Tim Wipperman, JoAnn Berry, Debbie Linn, and Rachel Whitney.
Texas-bred country singer Cody Michael was there, having spent the day being awed by his first CMA Fest experience. He’d spent the day strolling the downtown festival campus and pronounced himself delighted to be in Music City instead of his native Odessa.
Randy Travis was in the Nissan house, too. The legendary singer has seen a fest or two in his day.
Greeting one and all were such gracious CMA staffers as Sarah Trahern, Brandi Simms, Amy Smartt, Melissa Maynard, Aaron Hartley, Mechalle Myers and Brenden Oliver.
Meanwhile, on the Nissan stage, the evening began with The Oak Ridge Boys singing the National Anthem backed by the New Orleans Marine Corps Band. The Oaks then favored us with an a cappella take on “Elvira.”
Charles Esten of TV’s Nashville series had the first set. He committed my No. 1 fest faux pas by wearing all black on the black stage. He brought out his fellow cast members for a rousing version of “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” the show’s theme song.
The set by newly minted star Kane Brown displayed a distinct lack of stage presence and showmanship, perhaps owing to his youth and/or to nerves. He did, however, connect with the audience via his moving, tough-childhood speech introducing “Learning.” Lauren Alaina arrived, complete with rainbow sequins, to enliven his finale with “What If’s.”
Next, Carly Pearce popped up in white fringe to deliver a vivacious, expressive and lively rendition of “Hide the Wine.”
Dan + Shay were delightfully ebullient. The crowd roared as they sang “Nothin’ Like You” and held their lit cell phones aloft during “19 You & Me.” Shay Mooney let his tenor voice fly sky high, and Dan Smyers busted out Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” for some extra verve. The whole stadium sang along from the first notes of the duo’s “Tequila.” This set was star-making stuff.
Thomas Rhett and Kelsea Ballerini, who will co-host the ABC TV special about the fest, appeared to introduce Darius Rucker. He offered a good-natured, sing-along set that included “Alright,” “For the First Time” (which he sang twice), “Comeback Song” and “Hands On Me.” Inevitably, he closed with “Wagon Wheel.” Fittingly, the fully involved audience sang the song’s finale without him to lead them.
Brothers Osborne came out with guns blazing on “It Ain’t My Fault.” And these groovemeister kings of country cool kept the heat turned up on “Shoot Me Straight,” “Stay a Little Longer” and the rest of the tunes in their outstanding, smokin’ set.
Those totally gifted bros are an impossible act to follow. Fan favorite Jason Aldean tried, even spraying the crowd with foam from his beer can at one point. The highlight of his set was the 12:15 a.m. fireworks detonation that ended it. I can hear the East Nashville homeowners’ noise complaints already.