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Highlights, Late Nights & Shenanigans
February 27, 2013
Article & Photographs by Raeanne Rubenstein

Read the thrills of day 2 

If you’re a fan of country music, you’ve probably heard of CRS. But do you know what that stands for? This seemingly innocuous trio of letters is actually an acronym that stands for Country Radio Seminar, a highly anticipated and well-attended annual three day and three night (with emphasis on the night!) gathering that takes place, (where else?) in Nashville, TN.

Here country music industry leaders and label heads from all over the country, radio’s most prominent programmers and jocks, and talented young singers and sexy new bands gather together, some seeking a shot at fame, and others looking for the next big thing. They’re there to decide WHO, and that “who” is most important, will get signed by a label, earn a shot at the big time, or most importantly, get played on the radio next year. Because as you all surely know, radio play is the driving force in a successful country singer’s career. Without it, it’s back to Podunk, USA for you.

Here are some of the highlights, late nights and shenanigans of 2013’s awesome event!


The first day of CRS is always the most exciting. Picking up credentials, checking out the program to see who’s going to be where and when, and running into old friends and comrades not seen (some sorely missed, others not so much) since last year, and finding out who’s hot and who’s not this year.

The first day’s first event is always one of the biggest, the Universal Music Group Lunch and Performance which takes place at the Ryman Auditorium each year, which this year featured more artists than ever before, 21 to be exact. Because of the large number of performers, some legends, others superstars, and several first-timers making their CRS debut, each got to sing only one song, so the pressure was on, big-time. Not surprisingly, given the audience of label promotion people, station owners, radio jocks and press, most chose their debut single or latest single to perform, though some who had them sang a #1, just as a strong reminder of just who they are- hit-makers.

The lucky few performing this year included Billy Currington, Darius Rucker, David Nail, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Eric Paslay, Josh Turner, Lady Antebellum, Lauren Alaina, Little Big Town, Luke Bryan, Randy Montana, Scotty McCreery and Vince Gill, plus fresh-faces Brothers Osborne, Kacey Musgraves, Kelleigh Bannen, Chris Stapleton, Drake White, and Mickey Guyton. The biggest selling country crooner of all time, and 2013 “Career Achievement Award Winner” George Strait, closed the show with 3 huge hit songs, "Here for a Good Time," "The Chair" and his current single, "Give It All We Got Tonight."  Martina McBride got it right when she quipped, “”Everyone wants to be George Strait when they grow up.”

Needless to say, there were countless moments that might be considered highlights of the UMB show, given the extraordinary talents of the entire roster. None-the-less, here are some unforgettable moments that I’d like to share with you:

1. Lady Antebellum kicked off the first round of the UMG luncheon. The Nashville-based band performed their brand new single “Downtown” from their upcoming 5th studio album, Golden, set to be released on May 7. This song is the band’s highest charting  debut so far, entering the Billboard Country Airplay chart at 25, and Billboard Hot Country chart at 42, for that week. The band’s performance was particularly special this year, as lead vocalist Hillary Scott is pregnant with “Baby Antebellum”, the fan’s nickname for her first child “Baby Antebellum”, due in July. In a recent interview, Scott hinted that “the baby’s heartbeat may be heard on the band’s new album.”

2. Last year, Texan Kacey Musgraves made her CRS debut and this year she returned as a crowd favorite. The spunky newcomer sang her hit “Follow Your Arrow” from her debut album on Mercury Records, Same Trailer Different Park, set to be released on March 19 and her current single, “Merry Go Round” just hit the Top Ten. She is currently nominated for four Academy of Country Music Awards, including Female Vocalist of the Year, and her song “Undermine”, co-written with Trent Dabbs, was performed on ABC’s hit show Nashville. The quirky 24-year-old seems well on her way to becoming the next Taylor Swift, and  is currently touring with Little Big Town. In April, this lucky lady will also join  the Kenny Chesney tour, and rumor has it that even pop sensation Katy Perry, is a fan!

This year marked the first CRS performance for Brothers Osborne, (definitely not the same as old-timey bluegrass band the Osborne Brothers) whose debut single “Let Me Love The Lonely Out of You” debuted at #54 on the charts. The Baltimore area brothers had a hard act to follow when they played after Kacey Musgraves, but the band held their own like seasoned  pros. The newcomers began their careers playing in a cover band with their father, and are now working on their first album, which they describe as “aggressive, bold and fragile at times.” Sounds good to me!

Perhaps the biggest crowd-pleaser that afternoon at the Ryman was Little Big Town. They thanked the excited crowd for one of the best years of their life and said happily “what a difference a year makes”, before performing their latest hit "Your Side Of The Bed". Without a doubt, the audience was hoping for more when they gave LBT one of the few standing ovations of the day! The band has been performing since 1998, and has been nominated for numerous awards, taking home a CMA award in both 2011 and 2012, and a Grammy this year for Best Country Duo/Group performance.

5. Fresh-faced Mickey Guyton created quite a stir when she performed for the very first time on the Ryman stage. This pretty, young African-American songstress is a Dallas native who grew up singing in church, and then moved to Nashville to pursue her dreams. The move paid off when she landed a record deal with Capitol Nashville. She surprised the CRS crowd when she explained, “This song I’m about to sing to you means so much to me. It’s about my ex-boyfriend, who was an asshole, but we’re not going to talk about that right now.” She was greeted with cheers and applause as she sang the first chorus of her breakup song “Better Than You Left Me”. As the lyrics say, “It’s funny what a little time does”, and we’re certain that soon enough we’ll be watching Guyton as she racks up plenty of nominations, and perhaps even some CMA Awards as well.

Grammy-nominated country newcomer, Mercury recording artist Chris Stapleton,  is no stranger to this town, already being considered by many in Nashville to be a great songwriter and the  “greatest singer in town”. Apart from his own debut single “What Were You Listening To?”, this skilled writer has penned songs for major names like George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Darius Rucker, Trace Adkins and Josh Turner. Even in light of having a cut on Adele’s latest album, Stapleton remains humble, delivering an impressive laid-back performance of his single
from the Ryman stage.

7. Kelleigh Bannen was dressed to perform and for a night out on the town. In fact, the stylish singer wore a short white dress so tight she wasn’t able to pick up her own guitar pick when she dropped it on stage. She laughed if off, charming the audience by saying, “Y’all are far more intimidating in a group than you are alone”. She didn’t let her nerves affect her voice and gave a stunning performance of her first single, “Jukebox.” The EMI National Recording artist is currently finishing up her first record, produced by the legendary Paul Worley, and we can expect a new, but as yet undisclosed, single from her soon.  

8. Country superstar Dierks Bentley was introduced to the crowd as one of most consistent hit makers in Nashville. His latest album, called Home produced three consecutive #1 singles, and he’s already hit double digits, with a whopping 10 #1s in his young career. After performing at the Grammy’s, he’s now working on his next Capitol Records project. He entertained the crowd by confessing that he was not only the first guy to ever open at Nashville hangout The Stage, he was also the first to get fired from there. And though the multi-talented star also has a valid pilot’s license, it didn’t deter him from performing the comical song, “Drunk on a Plane”.

9. Capitol Records superstar Darius Rucker has sold 25 million albums in his career, and last year was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. But that doesn’t mean he doesn't make mistakes every once in awhile. Whether intentional or not, Rucker got the crowd howling with laughter by starting out his hit tune “Wagon Wheel” singing the third chorus, and then explaining he couldn’t even remember the lyric at all. “We’ve played this song 600 times, what’s the first line?” he asked the crowd, and started over again after someone shouted out the correct lyric of the well-known song.

10. Vince Gill has charted more than 40 singles, has 27 top ten hits, 18 CMA awards, 20 Grammys, and has sold over 26 million albums. The Country Music Hall-of-Famer gave a touching performance of “Go Rest High On That Mountain” in remembrance of country artist Mindy McCready, who committed suicide on February 17 of this year. Gill revealed to the audience, “I’ve been racking my brain for what to sing... I came to the conclusion that this might be the most appropriate thing to sing today. I wanna do it because this is a holy place; it  was built as a tabernacle over 100 years ago. I want do this song in remembrance of sweet Mindy McCready. She was a mess, had a struggle in life like most people don’t even imagine. I didn’t know her well, but she was part of our family. She was part of the history of country music for that matter.”

And just one more!  George Strait got some introduction as the final act at the UMG luncheon, when the Master of Ceremonies introduced the singer, saying “The reason I thought we would never top last year’s show was really because, How do you top George Strait?” After a long pause, he added, “You top George Strait with George Strait coming back to the show!” and of course, the crowd went wild as “George Freakin’ Strait!” stepped into the spotlight.  Strait has sold over 68 million albums and has more #1 singles than any artist in the history of music. The “King of Country” was this year’s recipient of the Country Radio Broadcasters' 2013 Hall of Fame Career Achievement Award. The man of the hour performed three songs,  “Here For A Good Time”, “The Chair”, “Give It All We Got Tonight.”

OK, people. So far, not bad, and it’s only 4pm on Day ONE! So what’s a girl to do? Head back to the Renaissance Hotel for more “Freakin Great” country music, of course.

, an in-the-round performance sponsored by BMI & Country Aircheck, 4pm
Giddy from the awesome experience that UMG provided at the Ryman, we all went back across the street to the Renaissance Hotel for our next encounter with several of country music’s well-known stars. First, we witnessed an in-the-round showcase for hit-writers The Warren Brothers who performed their hits, Tim McGraw’s “Felt Good on my Lips”, Tobey Keith’s “Red Solo Cup”,  and another song they wrote for McGraw, his latest single “Highway Don’t Care”, a duet with Taylor Swift. Newcomer Thomas Rhett also performed “1994”, “Star of my Show”, “Beer with Jesus”, and “Something to do with my Hands”. The WCRS hour-long show was over way too fast, with the final song being “Front Porch Junkies,” which all three featured artists penned together. It was a fascinating and inspirational reminder that in Nashville, the song always comes first.

, 4:30pm
Without missing a beat, we headed out of our little country music cocoon in the hotel, only to discover that it was pouring outside. Undaunted and umbrella-less, I headed off to Lower Broadway (known to locals as Lower Broad-no snickers, please-) a few blocks away. I was headed to a cute club called Past Perfect for the Rodeowave Happy Hour party. The occasion was to celebrate a brand-spanking-new label formed by everyone’s favorite 2000’s hitmaker, Phil Vassar. Serving as both host for the party and moderator of the show, Vassar did an awesome job of introducing several talented artists with a real shot at becoming big stars. In fact, one of the bands signed to the label includes three handsome Canadian brothers whose band, called High Valley has had an incredible 40+ top ten hits in their native country already. Imagine what’s going to happen when a few million healthy American girls get a look. Also on the label is the legendary Billy Ray Cyrus, whose smash #1 single  “Achy Breaky Heart” is known around  the world, plus 15 top-forty singles, 8 of which reached the top-ten, have topped the charts for years.

Also performing was a new band called Old Dominion, not yet signed to Rodeowave, yet they were still included in the label’s showcase. Hmmmmm......... I wondered. I decided to ask Matt Ramsey, the singer/songwriter of the band, what was up? He replied, “Getting signed, that would be nice. I’ve known Phil. Phil’s the reason I moved to Nashville, and he’s been really good to me for as long as I’ve been here. Hopefully we’re at a point where we can work together. He’s great.”

I asked Ramsey what his greatest hope for the future might be? “I want do for music what music did for me. Music changed my life,” he explained. “Music was there for me when nothing else was and when I was really angry, I had music to be angry with me. When I wanted to kiss my girl, I had a song to do that. I want to be that for people. I want my music to be all over the country. I want to be able to make people have a good time with it, and I want to be able to help people through a hard time with it. However big I can be to do that, or however little I can do that, that to me is a musical dream come true. And to get to do that with my friends in the band that I’ve known forever, that would be fantastic. They’re my buddies.”

Also appearing was handsome-as-ever Billy Ray Cyrus, who kept the crowd riveted to their seats as he performed his huge monster hit “Achy Brakey Heart.”

One crowd-pleaser at the Rodeowave party was Phil Vassar himself, who performed his biggest hits to a very feisty crowd, loving every minute of it. In fact, the entire show was so much fun I just could not leave, so I missed the first half of our next event that started at 5pm, the Artist Attendee Welcome Reception. Though I was too late to really talk to anybody for long, I was able to photograph quite a few of my, and your, favorite stars, including the Eli Young Band; upcoming star from the hit TV show Nashville, RaeLynn; handsome newcomers Florida Georgia Line; and superstars The Band Perry. Check out the snaps, right here!

Grand Ole Opry Tribute Concert, 7pm
The next big show of Day One was a tribute to the Grand Ole Opry, featuring many of the Opry’s greatest and most beloved country stars, hosted by Vince Gill, and including several Grand Ole Opry members, plus not-yet-Opry-stars-but-probably-will-be-soon Dustin Lynch, and Scotty McCreery. And this is without mentioning an awesome surprise that took a country superstar by surprise. Opry member Brad Paisley, who was sitting in the audience, suddenly stood up and surprised Darius Rucker, who was performing, by asking him a question. “Our question is,” Paisley said, “would you like to be the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry?” Rucker was so surprised and thrilled, he burst into tears. Crying with joy, he “wondered how he was supposed to perform after this.”

That 70’s Showcase presented by Warner Music Nashville at 9:30pm
Though the music never, ever ends during CRS, there was only one more major event that first day, That 70’s Show. This event happened at one of Nashville’s newest clubs, called Avenue, 120 3rd Avenue South.  The show followed a 2-songs-for-each-artist format, with each star performing their favorite 70’s hit, followed by any song of their own. Since the show featured such awesome stars as Blake Shelton (and his wife, oh yeah, what’s her name? Oh yeah, Miranda Lambert), Sheryl Crow, Hunter Hayes, Big & Rich, Jana Kramer, John Oates from Hall & Oats, and newcomers The FARM, and Dean Alexander.... who could ask for more? Blake Shelton performed “Play That Funky Music” by Wild Cherry, with his wife, Miranda Lambert performing his newest hit “Sure Be Cool If You Did”. Hunter Hayes sang his current Top 10 single, "Somebody's Heartbreak," along with Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." Charlie Worsham stole the show when his special guest, Hall and Oates' John Oates, joined him for a performance of the famed duo's "Rich Girl."

Though it’s never over ‘til the next day starts at CRS, you can be sure the fun continued into the next day. With the packed-to-the-gills action at the Bridge Bar, the new and exclusive-to-the occasion Badge Bar, and many private performances and showcases both in the hotel, in the suites, and in clubs all around town, it was rockin’ or should I say “Country’n” if that’s a word?

Though wandering the town listening to great music seemed very appealing to me, I decided to call it a night. After all, I’ve been here before, and I know that tomorrow comes along very quickly at CRS!

Read the thrills of day 2 / Issue 145 - September 2018
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