Gwen Sebastian

gsebastian101209Gwen Sebastian’s debut single “Hard Rain” on Open Road Record/Lofton Creek Records is being released to country radio Oct. 12. She’s currently at work on her upcoming album, and she also has a holiday release available now called Christmas In July.

Born to a ranching family in Hebron, North Dakota (pop. 800), Sebastian’s childhood summers were spent rounding up cattle on the farm and cooking with her mother in the kitchen. But when she turned  her attention to music, she had a built in audience: she and her brother are but two of an incredible 117 grandchildren in her extended family.

“Before I could even walk, I would sit beneath the organ as my grandma played. I would watch her feet play the pedals,” recalls Gwen. By age 11 she became the local church organist, and by her early teens she was regularly performing on stages alongside her parents at local weddings, fairs and bars around North Dakota.

Once she arrived in Nashville, Sebastian became a regular performer at the Wildhorse Saloon, and moved on to play at fairs, festivals, casinos and clubs all over the country. She has opened for acts including Taylor Swift, Sugarland, and Phil Vassar. Sebastian enjoys the creative songwriter community in Music City and the opportunity to co-write with hit songwriters. “I want my fans to really connect with me and I feel that through my songwriting is the best way they can,” she explains.

Next Big Nashville Emphasizes Broad Musical Landscape


Jason Moon Wilkins at NBN 08.

What started as a small, one-off event in 2006 is working to change the perception of Music City. Next Big Nashville, holding its fourth annual event Oct. 7-10, offers a mix of music festival and business conference that spotlights our town’s thriving non-country constituency. NBN has grown and evolved at a staggering rate with attendance skyrocketing from 3000 in 2006, to 9000 in 2007, and 15000 last year. A conference was added along the way, with the 2009 event set to host about 140 performers and an expanded seminar.

In 2006, the first Next Big Nashville was held as a three-day concert that stemmed from an article focusing on the city’s rock scene by then Tennessean / Rage scribe Jason Moon Wilkins. “The article and party were really to capture the zeitgeist of what was happening at that time which was—and now has born even more fruit—the biggest explosion of non-country music in Nashville in its history, as far as number of signings, amount of interest and sales,” recalls Wilkins. “Between Kings of Leon, Paramore, Be Your Own Pet, and at the time Pink Spiders, it just seemed like time to do something that connected the dots.” Putting together 33 bands to play over three days at the Mercy Lounge and Cannery Ballroom, Wilkins and Movement Nashville’s Ethan Opelt co-founded what would become an annual event without even realizing it.

Wilkins had some festival experience, but his varied background was largely in writing including the now defunct Bone, as well as time in management, being a radio MD at Thunder 94, and as a musician signed to Arista/Dedicated, and on the road with Garrison Starr, Neilson Hubbard, and Josh Rouse.

“We did it with no real long-term aims the first year, there was no big plan. There was no business plan. We literally did it in three and a half weeks. For 2007, we sat down and start thinking, ‘Okay, what are we going to do?’ Because all these people had come out of the woodwork—business people, people in the community, bands—and they pointed the finger at us and said, ‘Your doing this [rock festival] now.’ All the encouragement from all the different sectors pushed us along.” He laughs, “In spite of intelligence pushing us the other way.”

Now, four years later, NBN is drawing an increasing number of attendees from outside of Nashville who enjoy the networking and engaging local scene. Helping entice visitors is glowing press from national outlets like Rolling Stone, Billboard, and Pitchfork, as well as many out-of-town bands on the bill.

Some of the 2009 conference highlights will be the What’s Next for Nashville panel, the return of the Nashville Music Awards, and Robert K. Oermann’s presentation on how Nashville became Music City. Day one and two will be right off the Row at the Martha Rivers Ingram Center for The Performing Arts At Vanderbilt University, while day three of the conference moves to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Ford Theater. The nighttime showcases will be at twelve different venues around town.

Lacking a central location is one of NBN’s shortcomings admits Wilkins. “I think long-term for something like this to succeed, on a bigger scale, you have to create an opportunity where people can walk,” he says. “Right now we’ve got shuttles that go between venues and get people from A to B, but it’s not the same as being able to walk down 6th St. in Austin.” While Music City’s Lower Broadway is foot-traffic friendly, the venues there cater to tourists with country cover bands, rarely offering a local indie act. But they are giving NBN a chance this year. As a trial run, on Friday, Oct. 9, from 7-10 PM, the NBN Honky-Tonk Takeover showcases will hit Tootsie’s, Paradise Park, The Wheel, and Full Moon.

“Even if you just focus on the major [rock acts] that are happening right now [in Nashville] it’s incredibly impressive. What Kings of Leon, Paramore and Jack White are doing on a worldwide basis—each of those things alone would be enough for a scene to hang its hat on,” exclaims Wilkins. “But, we still have a mountain to climb in terms of perception, where the name Nashville is so synonymous with country music that it is sometimes difficult for people to wrap their heads around the breadth and depth of everything else that goes on here, like the gospel, and soul, and incredible work the Symphony does. People like Mat Kearney and Safety Suit have mainstream Top 40 hits, and they’ve done it out of here, by working hard, and getting out there, and not relying on the Nashville system per se, but using this as their base of operations. I think that is the way forward for people who are interested in moving here. Those success stories prove that it can be done.”

Jason Crabb

“Somebody Like Me”

Spring Hill/Nine North

jcrabbSpend half your life doing any one thing, and at some point, you’re bound to question whether or not that one thing was the right thing. For Jason Crabb, longtime powerhouse lead vocalist for The Crabb Family, that has never been a question. With a soulful voice like his, the ‘right thing’ was always a given. He was born to sing. Baptized in a God-given talent pool, weaned on the hymnal and mentored by Bill Gaither himself, Jason Crabb hit the road at age 14 and, alongside his family, has pursued his calling full-throttle ever since.

But now the Grammy nominated, 10-time Dove Award winner is going solo with his self-titled album and new country single “Somebody Like Me.” Produced by Grammy Award-winning Tommy Sims (Michael W. Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Michael McDonald, Amy Grant) and Norro Wilson (Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire, George Jones, Shania Twain), Jason Crabb features cameo appearances by country music legend Vince Gill, southern Gospel mainstay The Gaither Vocal Band and acclaimed songstress Sonya Isaacs.

With songs like “Walk on Water” (written by Bobby O. Pinson, Trent Tomlinson, Vicky McGehee) and “Sometimes I Cry,” (written by Gerald Crabb, one of the most prolific songwriters around with 22 No. 1 southern Gospel hits), Jason both acknowledges and encourages hurting people, leaving something more substantive that ‘feel good entertainment.’ Other surprises on the debut include: the bouncing, danceable “Hope For Me Yet,” a Marc Broussard/Radney Foster/Justin Tocket ode to love, “Forever’s End” penned by Randy Goodrum (“Oh Sherry,” “You Needed Me”), reinterpretations of the Crabb Family favorite “Through The Fire,” and “Daystar,” a Cathedrals’ classic, and a worshipful ballad “I Will Love You.”


“How Far Do You Wanna Go?”

Emblem Music Group/Warner Bros.

gloriana100509By any measure, Gloriana has become one of country music’s hottest young acts. Taylor Swift called on the four-member group to open her Fearless 2009 tour, and Brooks & Dunn and LeAnn Rimes have also chosen them for opening slots. They have appeared on Good Morning America and The Today Show, as well as Access Hollywood and Sirius/XM, among scores of others. Following the band’s recent Top 10 debut single “Wild At Heart,” they are now releasing “How Far Do You Wanna Go?” to radio.

Ultimately it’s the fans who have made Tom Gossin, Mike Gossin, Rachel Reinert and Cheyenne Kimball collectively one of 2009’s hottest new country acts. Gloriana’s self-titled Emblem Music Group/Warner Bros. Records debut premiered at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top 200 and at No. 2 on the Billboard Country Album Chart. The album had the best first-week sales of any new country artist in 2009, and “Wild At Heart” is the best-selling song by a new country artist in 2009, selling over 350,000 copies to date. The diversity of their appeal can be seen in the fact that they have appeared both on the Grand Ole Opry and in the pages of several magazines aimed at teens.

Gloriana was produced by Grammy Award-winner and Emblem Music Group label owner Matt Serletic (Rob Thomas, Willie Nelson, Aerosmith), and mixed by Justin Niebank (Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts) and Chris Lord-Alge (Faith Hill, Tim McGraw). Emblem Music Group is Serletic’s Diamond and multi-Platinum award-winning label, with over 50 million album sales to its credit. In the early stages of the album’s development, Serletic began writing with one of Nashville’s finest songwriters, Jeffrey Steele, and co-wrote the group’s debut single “Wild At Heart” with Josh Kear and Stephanie Bentley. At the same time, the group was collaborating with a talented array of Nashville songwriters including Trey Bruce, Kyle Cook, Ben Glover, Chuck Jones, Kevin Kadish, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Danny Myrick.

“I know how much music has impacted all of our lives,” says Tom. “It connects us all, it moves us and it can change a person,” adds Mike. “We hope that our music will do that for others for a long time to come.”

Richie Fields

“Losing You”

Joint Journey Records

rfields-pp92109“The crisp riffs and melodic harmonies throughout ‘Losing You’ flow magnificently, and Richie’s emotion is pouring through his vocals. The guy has a great voice. This is a top-notch track, one that SHOULD be playing at radio everywhere.”

Richie Fields’ latest single, “Losing You,” was written by hit makers Gerald Smith (Collin Raye, Lorrie Morgan) and Wynn Varble (Brad Paisley, Darryl Worley), and showcases Richie’s distinctive baritone. The power ballad is from Fields’ upcoming CD, due in stores in 2010. The track was produced by J. Gary Smith (Andy Griggs, Lonestar) and associate producer, Clif Doyal.

Richie has been touring non-stop this summer, going as far west as Denver’s famed Grizzly Rose and as far east as Ocean City, Maryland’s Cowboyz Smokehouse & Saloon. Upcoming shows include stops in Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyoming; Macon, Georgia; Hanover and Hagerstown, Maryland.

Recent media coverage includes a “Spotlight Featured Artist” slot in the debut issue of AirPlay Direct’s new digital magazine, the Direct Buzz, and also in Country Weekly (”Who’s New”-June 8, and “Listen Up!”-July 13). Television appearances include the Pentagon Channel, Inside Music Row, Hit Country TV and True Country GoTV networks.

Mica Roberts

“Days You Live For”

Show Dog Nashville

mroberts-daysMica Roberts’ new single release is “Days You Live For,” and the Oklahoma native is busy making the radio rounds to get the word out. A talented vocalist and musician who hit the road after high school, Roberts earned her performance stripes playing amusement parks, campgrounds and on a cruise ship before landing high profile jobs as an in-demand backup singer.

If you want to know Roberts, you are going to have to get to know her hometown Locust Grove, Oklahoma. A tiny town of 1400 people, Locust Grove is about 50 miles east of Tulsa and is still the place Roberts calls home. She still owns the family farm there where she grew up and forged her lifelong love of music.

When Mica arrived in Nashville she did everything she could to get a job. “I just wanted to stay there and support myself,” Mica recalls. “I waited tables and sang in a local club called the Bull Pen Lounge.” In 1997, nine years after she made the move to town, she she became Faith Hill’s background vocalist and toured with her for four years. This led to other opportunities from Billy Bob Thornton to her hero Willie Nelson and eventually head Show Dog Toby Keith, whom she has backed up for the past seven years.

“My dream is to make music with an edge and energy all its own,” says Roberts. “I draw inspiration from the people I’m around and from my life. I believe in the music I’m making and I know people will connect with it if given the opportunity.”

George Strait’s Video Premieres on CMT

CMT presents the exclusive world premiere of George Strait’s top 5 hit, “Living For The Night” available now on and CMT Mobile. “Living For the Night” will have its broadcast premiere Monday, August 31 at 6:00 a.m., ET/PT on CMT and will be in Hot Shot rotation.

CMT will extend its promotion of Strait’s new video across all of the network’s multiple platforms, including, CMT Radio Networks, CMT Mobile, and the digital 24-hour music channel CMT Pure, among others.

Bill Gentry

“I Want What You Want”

bgentry-playlistAlready an underground star across the Southeast with his electrifying stage show, Bill Gentry is now releasing his long-awaited debut single “I Want What You Want” to radio. A revved up and rocking celebration of traditional country values, “I Want What You Want” is the first glimpse of Countrified, Gentry’s upcoming album produced by Garth Fundis (Sugarland, Keith Whitley, Trisha Yearwood, Alabama, Don Williams).

“I’ve never made a record like this before,” says Fundis. “It’s special because of Bill’s energy and his understanding of who he is as an artist. We set the bar high and didn’t compromise. I’m very proud of this record.”

The dream of being a country singer is rooted in Gentry’s past. He grew up on a cattle farm in Carrollton, Georgia, not far from Alan Jackson’s hometown. After starting his band, he built a devoted following audience the old-fashioned way by honing his live show. Over the last decade, he has performed for more than a million fans.

“Right now is when country music should be most alive,” Gentry says. “Country has always been about the common man, and we’re all struggling right now. I want my music to speak to them, in a way that embraces the roots and values of America.”

Bill plans a heavy schedule of concerts across the country over the next year, so check his website for his itinerary and news updates.

Julia Burton

“Party Down”

Emerald River/Nine North

jburton-playlist“Party Down” is the new single release from Emerald River/Nine North artist Julia Burton. “This is a fun song with an encouraging message about how to move on and celebrate life after a relationship has gone awry,” explains the West Virginia-raised Burton. “Lord knows we’ve all been through relationships like that!” The song is featured on the singer’s debut album, Woman From the Country, which is scheduled for release later this year.

Burton’s drive to entertain stems from early in her childhood. “I would sit at my toy piano and say ‘daddy come listen to me sing my song’—it was ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’” says Burton, “and then Momma would catch me on top of the coffee table with a candlestick in my hand belting out Hank Williams Jr’s ‘All My Rowdy Friends.’ It’s all I’ve ever thought about and dreamed.”

When she moved to Nashville, she was given the opportunity to play the back room of the legendary Tootsies Orchid Lounge. There she performed three nights a week for four hours to a rowdy country crowd, growing as an entertainer and artist. “Performing at Tootsie’s gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of people who love country music,” reflects Burton. “What an amazing place, what great fans. It’s an experience that I will remember for a lifetime.”

Burton has since shared the stage with artists as diverse as Kool and the Gang, Wynonna, The Commodores, and Jo Dee Messina. She is also a National Spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

ON THE COVER: Anthony Smith

MR-AR-200Label: Stroudavarious

Forthcoming Album: Sunshine, set for release in 2010

Current Single & Video: “Bringin’ Back The Sunshine”

Current Producer: James Stroud and Anthony Smith

Interesting Facts: #1: The album is scheduled to include an instrumental track called “Anaconda Cowboys,” performed with Smith’s band of the same name. #2: Smith’s first album was on Mercury Records. #3: Sunshine features a tune with Smith and the late Porter Wagoner.

Anthony Smith, the long-haired “country boy” from East Tennessee, has been known to break rules and ignore the usual polite conventions— he approaches life with the same hold-nothing-back passion that fills his music. Smith explains, “I have never tried to sound like anyone else. I have always wanted to be an original, because if you look at music, the ones who sound like nobody else are the same ones who break new ground and start new trends. I’m doing the kind of music I love in the only way I know how.”

Anthony Smith

Anthony Smith

Anthony Smith’s “Bringin’ Back The Sunshine” is the debut single from his first album on Stroudavarious Records. The song went for adds August 10 and is from his forthcoming album, Sunshine, scheduled for release in early 2010. The album is a collection of Smith original compositions, co-produced by Smith and label head/veteran hitmaker James Stroud. Smith also brought in the late Country Music Hall of Fame member Porter Wagoner on the album for one of his last studio recordings—”Hillbilly Romeos” features Wagoner’s witty commentary playing off of Smith’s lead vocals, for a fitting tribute to a country legend who loved songs that were playful and about rural life. Set for release in September, the accompanying music video was shot by Traci Goudie and features Derek Phillips (from Friday Night Lights and The Closer) and Danielle Rene (from the upcoming Terrence Maiick film starring Sean Penn and Brad Pitt).

Smith’s experience includes previous success as an artist, with three Top 40 songs from his critically acclaimed first album, If That Ain’t Country. He’s also had a long string of hits as a songwriter—including George Strait’s “Run,” Trace Adkins’ “Chrome” and “I’m Tryin’,” Tim McGraw’s “Kill Myself” and “Kristofferson,” Rascal Flatts’ “My Worst Fear” and Montgomery Gentry’s “What Do Ya Think About That?,” as well as memorable cuts by Faith Hill, Reba McEntire, Gretchen Wilson, Wynonna, Trisha Yearwood and many others.

Despite his many songwriter hits, Smith has always seen himself as a performer first. “I’ve never written a song for another artist to cut,” he says. “I always wrote songs for myself, for me to do on stage and to record. Other artists heard them and wanted to cut them, and that’s tremendously flattering to me. But my intent was always to be the one on stage singing what I write.”

The distinctive music Smith makes injects a rock ‘n’ roll swagger and funky, fresh rhythms into a style of music that is undeniably contemporary—and undeniably country. “I like getting a reaction,” he says. “My music isn’t the kind you sit and passively listen to. It’s going to make you move, and it’s going to make you react and feel something. I want an emotional response—whether it’s good or bad or romantic.”

What runs through each song is a big personality and the accompanying jolt of energy that Smith brings to everything he does. “I don’t like holding back,” Smith says. “I like to put it all out there, on the page and on the stage. Audiences know when you’re being real, when you’re talking about what you know and what you feel.”