The Band Perry’s Sold Out Show at the Ryman

The Band Perry makes its headlining Ryman Auditorium debut February 20, 2012 – the first act to perform on the Ryman’s new stage. Front Row: The Band Perry's Reid, Kimberly, and Neil Perry. Back Row: Jimmy Harnen, Republic Nashville President; Erik Peterson, TBP Artist Management; Bob Doyle, TBP Manager; Rob Beckham, William Morris Agency; Sally Williams, Ryman Auditorium; Dana Burwell, Producer; Steve Buchanan, Gaylord Entertainment; and Scott Borchetta, Big Machine Records CEO.

The Band Perry played to a full house at the Ryman Auditorium on Feb. 20 in downtown Nashville, TN. When tickets went on sale last fall, the show sold out in a staggering twenty minutes, a first for the Republic Nashville breakout trio. Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry were also the first artists to perform on the recently renovated stage at the legendary venue.

“We are so excited to have performed our first headlining show in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium! Country music’s ‘Mother Church’ was in need of some loving attention, so a brand new stage has just been added,” says Kimberly. “We had the honor of being the very first act to perform on it. The evening was even better than we imagined.”

Natalie Hemby opened for the 2012 ACM Vocal Group of the Year contenders. Hemby, who wrote Miranda Lambert’s “Baggage Claim” and “White Liar,” told the audience when The Band Perry offered her the opening slot, she was so excited that she screamed. She performed several songs including the hits she wrote for Lambert, as well as a lullaby that she recently penned for her daughter.

Afterwards, accompanied by a full band, The Band Perry shared a few new songs as well as their Gold-certified No. 1 single, “All Your Life;” their Triple-Platinum, No. 1 smash, “If I Die Young” and the Gold-certified “You Lie” from their Platinum Republic Nashville debut album. Their set included a backdrop made up of three LCD screens, which showed various animations and music video clips during the performances.

Not only did the Feb. 20 show in Music City sell out in a matter of minutes for The Band Perry, their show Feb. 18 at Billy Bob’s Texas in Ft. Worth, also sold out in advance. With more than 16,000 in attendance, the sibling trio also performed to a packed venue at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo on Feb. 15.

The Band Perry heads back out on the road this week with Brad Paisley’s Virtual Reality Tour 2012. Upcoming stops include:

2/23       Madison, WI – Alliant Energy Center
2/24       Moline, IL – iWireless Center
2/25       Springfield, MO – JQH Arena

KREK’s Dusty Edwards Passes

MusicRow sends its condolences to family and friends of KREK/Bristow, OK MD Dusty Edwards, who passed away Friday (Feb. 24) in Tulsa. He was 49.

Known as Ron Schmidt to his family and friends, Edwards was born in Fort Cobb, Oklahoma and went on to serve in the United States Air Force after finishing high school. He joined KREK in 1992, where he worked for 20 years, including time as MD and on-air talent. Basketball was also a passion of his, and he served as the voice for Bristow Pirate basketball games.

Edwards had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in early February, and began chemotherapy treatment. Last week, he suffered a heart attack that left him in a coma. After a period with no change, he was taken off life support and passed away shortly after. He had taken leave from KREK in December 2011 prior to his diagnosis.

He is survived by his father Ronald Sr., mother Gladys, brother Donald (aka “Shorty”), sister Gidget, daughter Tascha, granddaughter Makayla, and two nieces and a nephew. His first grandson is also on the way. He was preceded in death by his brother David.

Funeral services have been scheduled for Thursday, March 1, at 11 am at the Freeland Center in Bristow, with interment to follow at Tecumseh Cemetery in Tecumseh, Oklahoma.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked memorial contributions be made to assist with medical bills, through a fund set up in his name. Contributions can be sent to Dusty Edwards Benefit Fund, c/o Community Bank, PO Box 1010, Bristow, OK 74010.

For correspondence, contact Gidget Miller, 15606 E. Tecumseh, Norman, OK, 73026.

Musician/Photographer Bev LeCroy Passes

Bev LeCroy

James Beverly LeCroy was notable in Nashville for his classical and jazz contributions, as well as for his work as a photographer.

Bev LeCroy died on Saturday, Feb. 25, at age 93. LeCroy first picked up the trombone at age 13 in his native Chattanooga. He played in the University of Chattanooga marching band as well as on WDOD radio.

He moved to Nashville in 1943 and became a charter member of the revived Nashville Symphony Orchestra. He also played in the big swing bands of Francis Craig, Beasley Smith and Owen Bradley.

LeCroy performed “Near You” while with Craig. The band’s 1947 recording of this song became Nashville’s first million-selling record. Demand was so great for “Near You” that the city’s first record-pressing plant was built to meet it. The song still holds the record for remaining at No. 1 on the pop charts longer than any other, 17 weeks.

The trombonist was known to many Nashvillians for his long-running stint as a member of WSM radio’s Waking Crew band. In the early days of television, The Waking Crew also performed on WSMV’s “Noon Show.”

In the 1960s, Bev LeCroy began a second career as a staff photographer for the National Life & Accident Insurance Company. His photos of r&b singer Etta James in action on stage at Nashville’s New Era Club were used on the LP jacket of Etta James Rocks the House. These images were featured in the Country Music Hall of Fame’s celebrated “Night Train to Nashville” exhibit in 2004-05.

Bev Le Croy is survived by his wife Katherine, son James, daughter Donna, granddaughter Sylvia and great-grandson Austin. Funeral services will be held Tuesday (2/28) at 10 a.m. in Woodlawn’s Dignity Hall, 660 Thompson Lane.

Classic Country Songwriter Roy Baham Passes

Roy Baham

Award-winning country songwriter Roy Baham has died at age 74.

Baham won his BMI Award for “Charlie’s Shoes,” recorded by Billy Walker. The song became Walker’s biggest hit when it rose to No. 1 on the country charts in 1962. The songwriter’s other notable success was Jimmy C. Newman’s recording of his “Blue Lonely Winter” in 1968.

He also wrote songs recorded by Carl Smith, Ray Price, Anita Carter, Lucille Starr, Burl Ives, Jack Greene & Jeannie Seely, Charlie Walker, Skeeter Davis, Bobby Bare, Justin Tubb and many others.

Dave Dudley recorded 17 of Roy Baham’s songs and released two of them as singles, 1973’s “Rollin’ Rig” and 1975’s “Fireball Rolled a Seven.”

Roy Baham died on Wednesday, Feb. 21. He is survived by his wife Helen, son Jonathan, daughter Diane, granddaughter Brianna and brother Alfred. The funeral and burial were held on Saturday in Birmingham, AL.

WCRS Live! Features All Female Lineup

(L-R) Lori McKenna, Natalie Hemby, Leslie Roberts (BMI), Matraca Berg, Ashley Monroe, Jessica Frost (BMI)

Lyrical sirens Lori McKenna, Matraca Berg, Natalie Hemby and Ashley Monroe showcased their songwriting, the bedrock of the industry, at the WCRS! Live show presented by BMI and Country Aircheck yesterday afternoon (Feb. 24) during CRS 2012.

Natalie Hemby was fresh off the new Ryman stage from opening The Band Perry’s first headlining show on Feb. 20 and kicked the girls’ traditional Nashville songwriter round to life in an RV, “Little House on the Highway.” The recently-signed EMI Publishing writer additionally introduced “Little Black Dress,” which brought to mind a modern version of “Looking For Something In Red.” Before finishing the round, Hemby expressed her devotion to songwriting when, just six years prior to watching Gwyneth Paltrow singing “Timing is Everything” in the Country Strong trailer, she had been working at Comcast for health insurance. “I would have continued to write music regardless of whether or not it was my full-time job,” she said.

Lori McKenna drew laughs with a quip about her chart history. “I was worried I would have been introduced by how many kids I have because I don’t have any No. 1s. Just five kids.” Her gut-wrenching, sober lyrics and voice exhibited a single from her most recent album, Lorraine, “Buy This Town.” She mentioned her utility worker husband before singing a song about a woman who “keeps you in your place,” and also introduced “Make Every Word Hurt,” as the song that has been cut three times but yet to make it on an album.

Ashley Monroe previewed “Like a Rose” and “Morning After” from her upcoming solo album recorded with Vince Gill and Justin Niebank. The vocal acrobat thanked the audience of radio broadcasters for sending her future child to college from her Jason Aldean hit, “The Truth.”

Back-to-back Miranda Lambert cuts were presented by Hemby and another from Monroe, who is also in Pistol Annies, including “Only Prettier” and “Heart Like Mine,” respectively.

NSAI Hall of Fame songwriter, Matraca Berg, hosted the round and played “You and Tequila,” which she explained came after the passing of her songwriting idol, Harlan Howard. “Harlan bought me my first shot of tequila,” she said. More hits kept rolling in including the song Trisha Yearwood made famous, “Wrong Side of Memphis,” and her iconic hit for Deana Carter, “Strawberry Wine.” Berg also treated the audience to “Your Husband’s Cheatin’ on Us,” a new and entrancingly eerie song about a wife, mistress and a new mistress.

Each writer seemed burdened with admiration at the prospect of following the others’ lyrical craftsmanship. After following Lori’s “Luxury of Knowing,” Matraca mentioned, “I was gonna throw Ashley under the bus, but I’ll take the hit…I feel really great about the future of women in songwriting.”

Sony Boat Show Combines New Artists and Seasoned Pros

(L-R): Kix Brooks, Carrie Underwood, Kristen Kelly, Sara Evans, Jake Owen. Photo: Alan Poizner

Sony Music Nashville’s General Jackson Show & Dinner cruise is a time-honored tradition of Country Radio Seminar, and the 26th installment on Thursday night (Feb. 23) presented the label’s diverse roster from newcomers to seasoned pros. Storme Warren, Sara Evans, and Kellie Pickler served as hosts between performances.

Jake Owen kicked off the evening, performing his current single “Alone With You,” and adding the PG-13 concert ending “I can’t be your booty call.” He also delivered a thundering version of his No. 1 hit “Barefoot Blue Jean Night.”

New faces performing included Tyler Farr (on “Hot Mess” and “Hello Goodbye”), a soulful Kristen Kelly (on “You Love To Make Me Cry” and “Ex-Old Man”), and Casey James (on “Let’s Don’t Call It A Night” and “Crying On a Suitcase”). Love and Theft, now a duo, came out to play “Angel Eyes” and their previous hit “Runaway,” with guitarist Josh Leo tossing in some sweet Knopfler-esque guitar solos for the extended jam. Josh Thompson stepped up for “I’m Comin’ Around,” and “Way Out Here.” Kix Brooks had his coming out as a solo artist with “Let’s Do This Thing,” and his debut single “New To This Town.”

A satellite acoustic stage (right in front of our table!) was reserved for acoustic performances from Pickler and Evans. Pickler played “Stop Cheating On Me” and “100 Proof” from her new album 100 Proof, and Evans played her classic “Suds In The Bucket” as well as “Anywhere.”

Pickler was a delight as host, expertly cracking wise with Warren and Evans. While waiting for headliner Carrie Underwood’s band to set up, she told a bawdy story about an ex who was obsessed with Sara Evans, prompting her to dye her hair much darker with disastrous results. Underwood joked, “I think we all learned why they asked me and not Kellie Pickler to host the CMA Awards.”

Underwood played her hit “Undo It,” as well as “Someday When I Stop Loving You,” before debuting her new single “Good Girl” which was emailed to programmers while we sat on the boat. The festivities wrapped up with an ensemble rendition of Young Rascals song “Good Lovin’” that featured Underwood, Evans, Kelly, Owen, and Brooks.

Lady Antebellum Expands Easily Into Headliner Status

The set featured three video screens, a long ramp out into the crowd, and an oval, raised in the back with an "inner circle" crowd area.

Lady Antebellum

February 22, 2012, Municipal Auditorium, Nashville, TN


Hillary, Charles and Dave, working the crowd.

“Coming up out of the lift at the start of the show, is my favorite part,” said Lady A’s Charles Kelley during an exclusive MusicRow interview with the trio before their Nashville show. “The energy is so outrageous, so addictive. I always take out one of my ear monitors to hear the crowd.”

During my last meeting with Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood about eight months ago, there were a lot of career questions on their minds. A new album was queued up for launch, they were focused on conceiving their first headline tour, and basking in the glow from recent multiple Grammy wins, but quietly wondering if there would be more.

No matter what yardstick you use, things have measured up smartly. The first two singles from Own The Night went No. 1 (“Just A Kiss” “We Owned The Night”), the new album is Platinum+, just won a Grammy and the International tour has already enjoyed nine consecutive sold out dates. “Yeah, we have to stop worrying so much,” laughed Charles when I remarked that the fans had answered all three questions in glowing terms.

“We feel blessed to have had so many dreams come true,” Hillary reflected. “But being able to fill an arena takes the cake in a lot of ways. It’s happened so fast. People ask us in interviews, ‘When is the moment where you feel like you’ve made it?’ For me, this is it.”

“Yes, we were working through all this stuff in the Fall,” Dave added. “But now we’ve hit a stride. I never thought we’d be able to fill those entire arenas with 10-14,000 people. Onstage is a different energy as opposed to the studio. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever felt before including Award show performances, etc. When people spend their hard-earned money to come out and are singing along it makes us feel so fortunate.”

The enticing aroma of steaks sizzling on a grill suddenly entered our space. Everyone kind of noticed it at once. “Yeah, it’s the same catering service that Martina McBride used when we were on our very first tour,” Dave said proudly. “Ever since then we knew we had to get them.”

Haywood, standing on a piano, leans into his Telecaster on "Just A Kiss."

“So what would you tell other Nashville artists, that aren’t yet headlining, about this experience?” I asked.

“Try to soak up the whole journey,” offered Charles. “There’s times I miss having one of those ‘can’t wait till it happens’ moments. Because after it does happen, it’s bittersweet. There is something about the innocence of being new and starting to hit those milestones. There were times when we were so involved we didn’t realize what an amazing journey we were going through.”

“And document,” said Hillary. “We’ve done that from the very beginning. It ends up being this beautiful video diary you might like to look back on and show your kids someday. It doesn’t matter what speed your career is at, you don’t process it fully while it is happening.”

While Lady A’s career has been moving in high gear, so has the changes in their personal lives. Hillary Scott was recently married and Dave Haywood is now engaged. “We’ve actually been going through this for several years,” says Dave. “Charles has been married a while and Hillary and Chris were dating all last year. We all put our personal lives first.”

“Our definition of putting our personal lives first looks a lot different than someone who has a normal 9-5 where they drive home and sleep in their own bed every night,” smiles Hillary, whose new husband Chris is currently playing drums on the tour. “But we’re thankful that at this time in our career we have the means to make it comfortable for everyone. When Charles and Cassie got married a few years ago we were all in one bus—12 of us—and she would have to fly in and out of cities because there was no room.”

The Show
Suddenly it was showtime. The three video screens showed each Lady A member primping and doing last minute “get-readys” in their dressing rooms. Moments before the lights dimmed and the videos began, they pumped the crowd with a “Shake It 2 Make It” dance teaser offering 2 tickets to the inner circle for the best dancers. The crowd rose to the occasion as the hot dance tracks played and video cameras put the action up on the screens.

But now it was all about the trio, their fans and specially invited radio programmers who were in town for the Country Radio Seminar. As Charles had predicted, the roar of the crowd was loud as the band rose up through center stage and launched into, “We Owned The Night.”

The show included a healthy offering of new songs and previous favorites. It’s incredible to realize the number of hits this band has amassed in the relatively short time they have been together. The night’s biggest challenge was the venue itself, the Municipal Auditorium. Its large round dome shape makes contouring the sound an engineer’s nightmare.

A special highlight was the stripped down acoustic interlude where the band members and musicians walked out the long ramp into the crowd and played around a mic. It was also a moment when Lady A invited supporting acts Darius Rucker and Thompson Square to jam. But there were more surprises to come. Luke Bryan pleased an excited crowd by singing “Do I.” (Hillary sang on Bryan’s record; Charles and Dave were co-writers on the song). Next, Sara Evans made a surprise appearance to sing “Stronger,” which Hillary Scott co-wrote.

The show moved back onto the main stage and gained momentum. Later, when the crowd called them out for a final encore, Lady A performed its signature song, “Need You Now.”

What makes this trio musically indelible? Well, certainly it is the instantly recognizable vocal blend of Charles and Hillary. Yes, it’s also the material they sing, much of which they write together. And yes, Dave Haywood’s musical contributions add depth and character. But maybe, above all else, it is the sensitive way the trio carries itself onstage, like three strands woven into a single tapestry. They care about each other and their fans. And it shows—all night long.

Backstage before the concert, (L-R) Dave Haywood, Hillary Scott, writer David Ross and Charles Kelley. Photo: Adam Boatman

Bobby Karl Works The Capitol Records Luncheon

Chapter 391

Photo: Alan Mayor

Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses….and Alan Jackson will heal them.

The exhausted, hungover, bleary-eyed attendees of Country Radio Seminar walked in zombie file into the Capitol Records luncheon on Thursday (2/23). When they left two hours later, they’d been bathed in the warmth, humor and emotions of a bona fide superstar.

Alan kidded them about being hungover, suggesting and singing snippets of tunes that could be CRS theme songs – “Pop a Top,” “Designated Drinker” and “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.” “It’s a pretty good town, isn’t it?” he said. “It’s a good place to raise hell and a good place to raise children. And I’ve done both.”

Relaxed and charming, he told them the story of his life in music, illustrating it with some of his finest songs. He was accompanied by four members of his Strayhorns band.

“We moved up here on Labor Day Weekend [in 1985]. I’d rented an apartment over the phone. Within two months, there were two fires and one shooting.” Alan sang 1996’s “Home,” which he wrote out of homesickness during his first days in Music City.

He had an early offer to record one song for Mercury Records, but was talked out of that deal. Four long years of singing demos and performing in clubs followed. One of those demos was “Country Club,” which became a hit for Travis Tritt. One of the clubs was a Ramada Inn, where he sang for Sunday brunch audiences, $25 for four hours.

One night, he dropped by the Hall of Fame Motor Inn near Music Row. An all-girl band called Miss-Behavin’ sang Rodney Crowell’s “Song for the Life,” and Alan was thunderstruck. The band later became Wild Rose, and in 1995 Alan fulfilled the vow he’d made to himself to record “Song for the Life.” His performance of it on Thursday was a highlight of the day.

Following his discovery by producer Keith Stegall, Alan’s debut single became 1989’s “Blue Blooded Woman.” It died at No. 45. “My wife was pregnant, and I was worried,” he recalled. “But those were good days, all that strugglin’ stuff.

He went on the road visiting radio programmers, and “I realized that they’re just regular people….You all have been so good to me, and I appreciate it.” He sang his breakthrough hit, 1990’s “Here in the Real World” to thank them.

“The label didn’t think ‘Chattahoochie’ should be a single. I didn’t either, but after it was No. 1 for six or seven weeks, I changed my mind.” He sang that one, too.

“My Daddy died in 2000 and after he did, I wanted to write something for him. But I didn’t want it to be sad.” The result was his 2002 smash “Drive (For Daddy Gene),” which he also sang.

His performance of “Remember When” was achingly lovely. He counterbalanced the ballad with the upbeat “Good Time.”

Alan confessed that he passed on Zac Brown’s breakthrough hit “Chicken Fried,” when it was offered to him. But he happily agreed to the duet “As She’s Walking Away,” which he sang, sans Zac.

Moderator Lon Helton pointed out that only Merle Haggard has written more of his own No. 1 songs than Alan Jackson has. Merle, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Alan are the only artists who have written more than 20 No. 1 singles.

“There’s not a lot of acts who have been around as long as me who are still on the radio,” said Alan humbly. “I appreciate y’all listening so nicely.” He did an eloquent, touching version of his new hit “So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore,” then concluded with a snippet of The Kendalls’ “Thank God for the Radio.” A sustained standing ovation ensued.

“This man is a country-music original and an American treasure,” said Capitol boss Mike Dungan. Mike was in radio promotion at Arista Records when Alan began his career there.

At the start of the luncheon, the label head indulged himself with a little bragging. “We have the No. 1 album and four out of the top-10 albums. We have the No. 1 single this week and the most added single of the week.”

A promo video featured Keith Urban’s “You Gonna Fly,” Dierks Bentley’s “Home,” Lady Antebellum’s “Dancing Away with My Heart,” Luke Bryan’s “Drunk on You,” Eric Church’s “Springsteen” and Eric Paslay’s forthcoming “If the Fish Don’t Bite.” Coming up on the label are new sounds by Little Big Town, Darius Rucker, Jon Pardi and Kelleigh Bannen.

“We’re very proud of our roster,” said Dungan. We’re weren’t proud of the menu, which featured the driest fried chicken in history. Many gave up trying to saw through it with plastic utensils.

Bathing in the therapeutic power of the superstar or just milling and mingling in the vicinity were JT Hodges, Amber Hayes and Shooter Jennings, plus Bob Moody, Bob Doerschuk, Bob Paxman, John Dorris, Josh Brandon, Jerry Holthouse, the ubiquitous Charlie Monk, Daniel Paul, Beth Gwinn, Susan Collier, Wendy Pearl, Rich Miller, Ryan Moore, Scott Stem and the beaming Capitol/EMI staffers.

(L-R): CRB Board President/WQYK PD Mike Culotta, Capitol Nashville COO Tom Becci, Capitol Nashville SVP Marketing Cindy Mabe, Capitol Nashville CEO/President Mike Dungan, Jackson, Capitol Nashville SVP Promotion Steve Hodges, EMI Records Nashville VP Promotion Angela Lange, CRB Exec. Dir. Bill Mayne, Country Aircheck Publisher/CEO Lon Helton

MusicRowPics: 10th Annual CRS Meet & Greet and CBO Awards [More Pics]

MusicRow held its 10th Annual CRS Meet & Greet and CountryBreakout Awards Tues., Feb 21, with performances by JT Hodges, The McClymonts, and Marlee Scott as well as a special appearance from Joanna Smith.

Awards based on CountryBreakout Chart airplay were presented to Independent Artist of the Year, Eric Lee Beddingfield; Label of the Year, Capitol Records Nashville; Breakout Artist of the Year, Thompson Square; Artist of the Year, Brad Paisley. WPPL/Blue Ridge, GA PD Jim Quinton was presented with the editorial CountryBreakout Reporter of the Year.

Complete coverage here.
More pics here.


Photos: Alan Mayor

Bobby Karl Works the UMG Ryman Showcase

Chapter 390

The third annual Ryman showcase by UMG (2/22) has staked its claim as the pre-eminent musical presentation of Country Radio Seminar.

I can’t think of an event in the history of CRS with more thrills per moment. As in previous years, almost the entire Universal roster, 19 artists, performed one song each.

(L-R): Scotty McCreery and George Strait. Photo: Peyton Hoge

There were a couple of exceptions, beginning with show-opening superstar George Strait, who performed two tunes. Introduced by host Royce Risser, Strait walked out to screams of excitement and a standing ovation.

“I want to thank MCA for having me out here today,” he said. “Thank you for supporting my career for so many years,” he added, addressing the 1,000+ radio professionals in attendance. Accompanied by guitar aces Mac McAnally and Steve Gibson, Strait sang “I Will Always Remember You.” It was a moving, wistful reflection on a life well lived and songs well sung that brought him a second standing ovation. He followed it with his hit “Troubadour,” which drew an even longer s.o. He clapped back at the cheering crowd.

Luke Lewis, Tony Brown and Erv Woolsey came out to present him with a plaque saluting “Here for a Good Time” as the first of Strait’s No. 1 hits that he had a hand in writing (along with Dean Dillon and son Bubba Strait). Marc Driskill of ASCAP presented a plaque for the same achievement as well as a guitar that the organization gives to all first-time No. 1 songwriters.

(L-R): Royce Risser (MCA), Luke Lewis (UMG), George Strait, Tony Brown, Erv Woolsey. Photo: Peyton Hoge

“I should have started doing this a long time ago,” said Strait. “Think how many guitars I’d have.”

“I think that’s something you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren,” Risser stated. “You saw George Strait at the Ryman. And every artist after this will be able to say, ‘Yeah, I remember the time when George Strait opened for me back in 2012.’”

One of the afternoon’s most emotional moments was provided by Vince Gill. “I wanted to come out today, more than anything, to say thank you,” he told the radio folks. “It was a really sweet, sweet ride for the last 23 years,” he added, revealing that after all those years he is no longer an MCA Records artist. He performed the trembling, devout “The Red Words” and drew a standing ovation.

(L-R): UMG Nashville Chairman Luke Lewis and Lionel Richie. Photo: Peyton Hoge

The finale artist of the afternoon was Lionel Richie. Like Strait, he was allowed two performances. Both “Easy” and “Crazy in Love Over You” were duets with Luke Bryan, who was revealed as a total Lionel freak.

“I am having the best time of my life,” said Richie, whose Tuskegee CD of Nashville duets will be issued next month. “I’m not born country, but my songs have been country for a long time.” By the way, CBS-TV’s Lester Holt of The Today Show is in town to interview him. Holt is an aspiring bass player.

For chill-bump responses from the conventioneers in the Ryman, the UMG baby acts ruled. Here’s how I rank ‘em:

  1. Mallary Hope delivered the finest vocal performance of the day with her minor-key gem “Black Widow Spider.” She drew spontaneous applause even before the song ended. At the finish, she segued into a snippet of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” “That’s awesome,” someone shouted. “Awesome and scary, too,” added Risser.
  2. Unknown newcomer Kacey Musgraves also drew spontaneous, mid-song applause for the superbly crafted lyric of “Merry Go Round.” The song of small-town dysfunction incorporated a number of children’s nursery rhyme phrases. A native Texan, Musgraves is notable for tunes she’s penned for Miranda and Martina.
  3. It looks like Kip Moore has a hit on his hands with the thumping “Something ‘Bout a Truck.” “You guys are changing my life,” he said.
  4. Alabama native Drake White walked out as a total unknown and walked off as a twinkling little star. “You Always Want What You Can’t Have” was hillbilly-soulful and super intense. At one point, he stepped away from the mic and wailed a cappella into the hall. They screamed in response.
  5. Expectant father Randy Montana got fine response with his new “Little Rock and the Rain.”
  6. Amazing Race TV veteran Canaan Smith said, “Last year at this time, I didn’t even know what a programmer was. I think the ink was still wet on my contract.” His debut single, the sprightly and earnest “We Got Us,” has just charted.
  7. Former SteelDrivers member Chris Stapleton staged his debut performance as a solo artist. “A lot of people in this room have had a huge impact on my life as a songwriter,” he said. “So thank you.” Then he floored them with his gritty, raspy, bruising, blue-eyed soul vocal on “Sometimes I Cry.”

Of the company’s more established artists, the finest performance came from David Nail. He blew the roof off the Ryman when he sang last year, and he repeated the feat on Wednesday when he sang his so-powerful, soaring new single “The Sound of a Million Dreams.” In a word, wow.

Laura Bell Bundy’s new single ships next month. She sang the uplifting “That’s What Angels Do” superbly.

The always dependable Josh Turner turned in a smoothly grooving “Time Is Love.” That was another big crowd favorite. Also on tap were Lee Ann Womack, The Randy Rogers Band, Josh Kelley, Scotty McCreery, Easton Corbin and Lauren Alaina.

It’s kind of hard to work a room when you’re sitting in pews and balancing a boxed lunch on your lap. Doing their best were Suzanne Gordon, Suzanne Alexander, Jeff Walker, Jeff Mayfield, Butch Baker, Kevin Lamb, Keith Smith, Ben Vaughn, Pat Higdon, Greg Cole, Peyton Hoge, Walter Campbell, Lisa Konicki, Tom Roland and MDA National Goodwill Ambassador, 10-year-old Bryson Foster.