This might be the 50th Country Radio Seminar, but it featured the very first convention luncheon staged by Warner Bros. Records.
The wait was worth it.
Held at the Omni Hotel on Wednesday (Feb. 13), the event’s main attraction was mega-star Blake Shelton. But the rest of the label’s showcasing roster more than stepped up to the plate.
Shelton proved (again) that he is one of the greatest country singers of our time. This vocal master of the genre was spellbinding. He casually picked up a guitar and asked the audience for requests. The first was for 2001’s career-launching “Austin.”
“When I was signed to Giant Records in 1998, it was three or four years before they put out any record I made,” he told the audience of radio tastemakers. “I said I would record ‘Austin.’ The only problem was that Clay Walker had the song on hold. So I dedicate this to Clay Walker, for not recording it.”
He was not only a superb country singer on the number, but also an able guitarist. Shelton followed that triumph with another early song requested. That was 2002’s vivid prison-story opus “Ol’ Red.” He drew a standing ovation when he finished it.
WB chief John Esposito began the luncheon by greeting the assembled multitude. “I sure appreciate this crowd,” he said. “This is our first Warner lunch, and based on this, there will be many more to come.” He asked for a round of applause for outgoing CRB exec Bill Mayne, “who brought this thing back to life.”
VP Kristen Williams handled the subsequent hosting duties. “This is a spectacular crowd,” she agreed. “This is something we’ve asked the CRB to do for many, many years. What an awesome way to kick off the 50th anniversary of CRS.”
Charming Morgan Evans led off the performances with his romantic, sweet “Day Drunk.” It has been No. 1 in his native Australia for 25 weeks.
“Last year was my first CRS,” he said. “My life is remarkably better since CRS last year, and that’s because of you guys.” His performance concluded with a dazzling, layered, looped vocal collage.
Cole Swindell has had eight straight No. 1 hits. Accompanied by two acoustic guitars, he sang his current success, the catchy and tuneful “Love You Too Late.”
“It’s an honor to be here today,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here without you.”
Devin Dawson premiered his dramatic ballad for outsiders everywhere, “Dark Horse.” It is the title tune of his CD.
“The song is my story,” he explained. “It’s the story of so many people all over America and all over the world. And I’m proud of that.”
The ever-ebullient Chris Janson was next. He introduced “Good Vibes,” the lead single from his forthcoming album. It was a performance blazing with personality and energy, highlighted by his ability to blow harmonica, play guitar and keep kick-drum rhythm simultaneously.
“Mark my words, Entertainer of the Year one day soon,” commented Kristen.
Texas cowboy Cody Johnson has built his career from the ground up, amassing a huge fan base and becoming a sold-out concert attraction without benefit of radio airplay. He made the most of his moment at the event.
“As an independent artist for 10 years, I had to face the fact that radio was not going to play my music,” he related. “Now, I get it to more people than ever, thanks to Warner Bros.”
He offered his current single, “On My Way to You.” It was an eloquent, heartfelt and completely moving performance. Cody left it all on that stage, earning the day’s first standing ovation. I believe I’d just heard a future No. 1 record.
Kristen pointed out that Ashley McBryde’s debut effort for the label was nominated for a Grammy Award this year. “She’s a whiskey drinkin’ bad-ass with the voice of an angel,” added the exec.
Ashley told the story behind the title tune of her album, then stunned the crowd with the awesome truth and poetry of “Girl Goin’ Nowhere.” The audience members applauded in mid song, then rewarded her with a loud, cheering standing ovation when she finished.
I challenge each and every one of those people who stood to PLAY this woman’s music and give her the stardom she deserves.
Fresh from their Grammy win, Dan + Shay were another show highlight. They introduced their new single, the lightly rhythmic “All to Myself.” Shay Mooney scat sang in his sky-high tenor and urged the crowd to sing along.
“Thank you for changing our lives,” said his partner Dan Smyers. “A lot of things have happened for Dan + Shay, and it all starts with you.”
Current CRB board president Kurt Johnson commented, “Isn’t this a great way to kick off CRS?” He introduced Dierks Bentley, last year’s winner of the Artist Humanitarian Award. Following a video montage of good deeds — notably benefit work on behalf of Oklahoma tornado victims — Dierks handed this year’s trophy to Blake Shelton. Blake smooched him on the cheek.
“This is a way bigger deal than I thought it was gonna be,” said Blake. “The cool thing about country artists is that I feel that we ALL step up when we get the chance. I couldn’t be more honored. I love you guys so much: I’m standing up here in front of y’all with 18 years worth of songs you guys have played.”
Leading the cheering were Charlie Cook, Greg Hunter, Bob Paxman, Jeff Horn, Don Cusic, Bob Kelley, Donna Caldwell, Nick Martin, Preshus Harris, Elizabeth Motley and Wes Vause. Philadelphia’s Rob Keegan was attending his first Country Radio Seminar. You’ll be happy to know that he was enthralled.
We lunched on baked lemon chicken, vegetable rattatoulle, abundant tossed salad, rolls, roast beef, fingerling potatoes and delish desserts.
Paulina Jayne performed in the vestibule prior to the luncheon. Flinging her bodacious, blonde, lion’s-mane hair during her vivacious, rocking set, she was backed by a terrifically tight, smokin,’ bi-racial band.
Other happenings during CRS’ 2019 launch day include Zac Brown Band leading Amazon’s “Country Heat” night, and Garth Brooks putting on an intimate acoustic show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for approximately 1,000 radio station executives and media.