This year’s New Faces of Country Music Show at Country Radio Seminar closed out three days of panels, seminars and music from superstars to newcomers, held at Nashville’s Omni Hotel.
On Friday, (Feb. 21), five more newcomers took the stage before hundreds of top country radio programmers from around the country. Each performer has had some traction on country radio, with hopes that some of the songs in their sets will soon add to their musical arsenal. This year’s lineup also highlighted the meld of influences in today’s up-and-comers, from ‘90s-esque country, female harmony groups, sleek pop country and hip-hop.
On a more somber note, several of the evening’s performers dedicated music to loved ones who had passed on.
First up was BMLG Records artist Riley Green.
He stayed close to center stage for his debut No. 1 hit “There Was This Girl,” clad in the requisite modern male country artist “uniform” of ballcap, white T-shirt and jeans.
“I wanted to do a song no one has ever done before, so I wrote a song about a truck,” he quipped, before adding, “I just wanted to write something about what trucks have meant to me,” before launching into “If It Wasn’t For Trucks,” followed by the title track to his album, Different ‘Round Here.
He reminded the crowd that he grew up in small town Alabama and noted that his parents were in the audience.
He ended with his current Top 15 hit “I Wish Grandpas Never Died,” which became a viral hit before some radio stations began adding it to their rotations. He also talked of the inspiration for the song.
“Last February, I was in Las Vegas for a show, and I got a phone call that my granddaddy has passed away. I got on a flight…and went back to Alabama, got there about two in the morning and I wrote this down. It turned out to be the title, but I don’t know what I really meant for it to be. I started playing it and fans started liking it. We recorded it…and y’all took a hold of it and started playing it on the radio and I can’t tell you how awesome it is to see people sing this back to me. Whatever I come up with and put out, it’s probably never going to mean as much to me as it does every time I hear this song played on the radio.”
Before Warner Music Nashville/Atlantic Records artist Ingrid Andress took the stage, the two large screens that flanked either side of the stage flashed video clips of artists including Andress’ future tourmates Tim McGraw and Dan+Shay, as well as Thomas Rhett and Keith Urban all offering their praises for the newcomer.
The singer-songwriter is enjoying a Top 15 hit right now—and with a ballad, no less—on “More Hearts Than Mine.” In song, Andress is polished and sleek, while her unfiltered, off-the-cuff banter between tracks offered a refreshing counterbalance.
“You guys drunk yet?’ she deadpanned to the room.
Andress was all confidence, passion and fire during her performance—though the majority of her four-song set was comprised of slow-to-middle tempo songs, she wrung out the nuanced storylines and soaring melodies in each. Her voice was smoky and poised during “Both,” then soaring and commanding during “Lady Like” (the title track from her upcoming album).
“I wrote this song because I felt like people needed to hear about the stereotypes that women and men feel like they need to fit and I feel like I’ve never been able to fit that. It’s from me being homeschooled and playing street hockey with guys. My parents never told me that being a girl was a disadvantage so I never thought I was at a disadvantage. I moved to the South from Colorado and it turns out there are a lot of rules I didn’t know about. I wrote this song to remind everyone, and myself, that you can be whoever you want and you don’t have to apologize or fit into a box.”
Her performance turned soft and contemplative on the as-of-yet unreleased track “The Stranger.”
“I wrote it because I grew up on Disney movies, and I feel like they raised me and my generation to believe that love was super easy—all you have to do is fall asleep and someone kisses you, and you get married. And it turns out that is not how it works, and if that happens to you, you need to see a therapist immediately. Love when it’s real is really hard and it’s different for everybody and it’s a choice…I write mostly sad songs, so you’re welcome,” she added.
She moved to a keyboard to start her radio hit “More Hearts Than Mine,” which earned a standing ovation for most programmers in the audience as she concluded her set.
In between sets, “New Faces Rewind” video clips highlighted past New Faces of Country Music Show performers who have gone on to become superstars, from Toby Keith (he played in 1994) to Eric Church (2007) and Taylor Swift (2008). In another clip, superstars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill recalled how their love story began when they met backstage at CRS’ New Faces Show when they played the show alongside Keith in 1994.
For the past few years, Aussie native Morgan Evans has been performing with his “American Band”—consisting on only his acoustic guitar and a pedal loop. For Country Radio Seminar, the Warner Music Nashville artist brought a flesh-and-blood, full American band, with guitar and drums, giving him a fuller sounds on the jangly, jam band-esque “Young Again,” and his breakthrough hit “Kiss Somebody.”
“Everyone that works at a radio station, thank you so much for this song,” he said.
He toned down the guitar-fueled, up-tempo work to sit behind a piano for “Things That We Drink To,” which he dedicated to his late manager Rob Potts, who died in 2017. As the song’s chorus swelled, and Evans moved to center stage, bathed in yellow light, the song took on an almost spiritual essence.
“Right after ‘Kiss Somebody’ came out, about three months after, I lost my manager of 10 years,” he told the audience. “He was the guy that discovered me and the first person ever to believe in me, after my mom and dad. He was the first person that ever brought me to America, too. He took me to the Opry for the first time. He brought me to CRS and New Faces. We didn’t have tickets—we just stood by the door looking in—and he taught me about the significance of this event. I feel like Rob would feel pretty good tonight looking down on all this.”
The ambience lifted again with the introduction of Evans’ sugary track “Diamonds.”
Wheelhouse trio Runaway June spent the better part of last year on the road opening 60+ shows for Carrie Underwood, and all that time hitting the stage each night was apparent in their high-energy, skillful performance.
They offered the moody banger “Trouble With This Town,” followed by the flirty “Head Over Heels.” A highlight of the set was the sincere “We Were Rich,” with the screen behind the band illuminated with childhood photos of Runaway June’s Naomi Cooke, Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne.
“We’ve been to CRS for so many years, begging for people to talk to us, and to be invited to this is incredible and to be able to play this with my two best friends, Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne,” said Cooke. “This song was a reminder for each one of us girls of what it was like growing up, before any of us knew we went without anything.”
The finished all-too-short performance with their breakthrough hit “Buy My Own Drinks,” which marked the first time a female trio or group broke into the Top 5 on the Mediabase Chart since the Dixie Chicks in 2003.
Columbia Nashville/Riser House’s Mitchell Tenpenny rounded out the evening’s performances, starting with “Anything She Says,” and bringing labelmates, Sony duo Seaforth on the track.
His second song of the evening, “Can’t Go To Church,” was a long time in the making. “I’ve had this title since the eighth grade,” he noted, before launching into the song’s beefy chorus, a perfect match for his powerful baritone. Tenpenny’s brother joined him on “Slow Ride,” offering enlivening rap portions.
Tenpenny was clearly excited to be playing the show, having attended in previous years. “I’ve spent four years sitting at these tables, dreaming of being up here,” he said.
Like Riley and Evans, Tenpenny opted to dedicate a song to a loved one who has passed on, noting that his father, James Mitchell Tenpenny, died in 2014 after a battle with cancer. Tenpenny introduced “Walk Like Him,” a song about all the characteristics of his late father that he sees in himself. A photo of his father shone on the screen behind him as he played.
He took a moment to thank the radio programmers in the audience, before offering his 2x multi-platinum debut hit, “Drunk Me.”
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