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Every year it’s the same, and every year CRS is completely unique. How can this be?

This year’s 39th annual gathering of country radio programmers from all over the country was no exception, with the radio folk doing what they always do—seeking and hoping to find the next hot country star’s greatest single, so they can play it for you on the radio. Same with the artists, singing their hearts out to be the lucky ones that radio loves. There are the usual educational panels, the usual showcases, and plenty of drinking and carousing at the Renaissance Hotel’s notorious sky bar. But each year the times are different, the songs are different, and the music always reflects that, as hopefuls try to make their mark in this world of radio, some to succeed, and others to quickly fade away.

Although CRS didn’t actually begin until Wednesday, the fun began at the Country Music DJ & Radio Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony at the Renaissance Hotel.

Popular radio personalities compete for the honor, and this year DJs Bill Cody and Bob Rollins walked away as the winners inducted, as did Jaye Albright, Bobby Kraig and Michael Owens for radio. Afterward, Universal Records South hit the ground running with a post-ceremony party featuring several of their artists at Nashville’s beautiful and historic Hermitage Hotel. Newcomer Randy Houser ("Anything Goes"), the outlaw-like- his- father Waylon, Shooter Jennings ("Slow Train") did an energetic acoustic set, followed by Joe Nichols performing his new single "It Ain’t No Crime," and Phil Vassar ("Love is a Beautiful Thing") showing off his awesome talent on the piano.

Wednesday morning started off with a bang when the top selling solo artist of all time, Garth Brooks sat down for an interview with Gerry House, host of the famous radio show Country Top 40. Though Garth announced that his remarks were "off the record" for the press, taking Dish and everyone else by surprise, we can say that he spoke earnestly about his deep love for his wife Tricia Yearwood, his motivation for doing what he does and his support for the MusicFirst Coalition’s stand on performance rights. He remarked that he wished they would tackle illegal downloading, because that will cause the death of the music business. He also said he might be open to the notion of selling his entire song catalogue, because the government won’t protect it.

After the interview, the winner of a drawing for a chance to perform a song with Garth WTHO/Thompson GA MD Steve Ferguson, who looked like he might expire from shock, took the stage-duetting "Friends in Low Places" for a live radio audience in his home town, as well as delighting the live CRS audience. As he left the stage he muttered, "I’m going to my room to faint." But the show was not over, as the curtain behind the acoustic-guitar wielding Brooks dropped to reveal Garth’s full band, as he played rousing renditions of.several of his greatest hits.

After Clay Walker received the Artist Humanitarian Award from Charlie Daniels, it was time for the Curb Records Lunch and Performance featuring newcomer Ashley Gearing and rapidly rising star Rodney Atkins ("Cleaning this Gun"). Gearing announced she was missing 5th period math to be there, but impressed with songs including her first single "Out the Window". Atkins performed his four #1 singles, plus what he hopes will be his next, "Invisibly Shaken".

That evening, the real fun started at Brad Paisley’s Music City Jam. Before he played, he announced his upcoming "Paisley Party 2008 Tour" lineup, which will include Julianne Hough, Chuck Wicks (remember him on the short-lived show Nashville?), and the always fabulous Jewel. Paisley performed a full set of hits, including "Online" and "Ticks", wowing the crowd with his and his band’s remarkable musicianship. Before the night was over, SonyBMG execs Joe Galante, Butch Waugh and Tom Baldrica rewarded Paisley’s success with a career 10 million sales plaque.

At CRS the night is young at 10 pm, as the radio crowd sets out to hear all the talent they possibly can. Some go to private label showcases, while others head out to the clubs. Among the many shows that night were Cold River/Nine North's Katie Armiger, who charmed the crowd during a well-received set in the Convention Center, while Dial Global's Big Time With Whitney Allen hosted Joe Nichols, Lee Brice and James Otto for acoustic sets. The Big Machine showcase introduced newcomer Fisher Stevenson, who performed several songs including debut single "Why Me". Label chief Scott Borchetta welcomed Trisha Yearwood, who performed several songs from her new album "Love Songs" before explaining how she responds to the "Where's Garth?" question she often gets at shows. She didn't have to make any excuses this time, though, as Brooks surprised the crowd by joining her for "Walkaway Joe" and "The Dance."

After late night soirees and a few too many in the Bridge Bar, the still enthusiastic radio folks returned on Thursday for a morning of seminars, beginning with a digital breakfast called "Bytes and Bagels", led by Craig Havighurst, "Growing Online", hosted by Larry Pareigis, and the "Power of Business in Espanol", with Jose Cancela, and "Woman to Woman", a look at the career paths of successful executive women in both radio and records, including the CMA’s Tammy Genovese and Premiere Radio Networks Julie Talbott.

Armed with lots of new ideas, the radio crowd headed off to the SonyBMG Lunch and Performance which featured Oklahoma’s pride Keith Anderson ("Pickin’ Wildflowers") whose heroes (Radney) Foster & (Bill) Lloyd reunited during his set to play a few tunes including their hit "Crazy Over You". Afterward, guests were treated to a video narrated by Kris Kristofferson which focused on the 1969-71 "Johnny Cash Show". This was followed by a performance by Kentucky-born wild men Montgomery Gentry ("My Town").

One of the best things about CRS is the Press Room, where artists both new, legendary or those in between come to mix and mingle with the wordsmiths credentialed to be there.

We ran into Aaron Tippin, who has a new album coming out with Cracker Barrel, and asked him why he was here at CRS? "I’ve had a lot of great moments here, and I’ll have ‘em today", he told us. "I’ll see old friends from the radio world who’ll shake hands with me and we’ll hug each other, and talk about a show I did here, or the time they first played my record, or the time I was in their town and we did some kind of promotion or something. I’m here to see my friends; that’s really what I’m here for."

Later I had a chance to talk with my friend Ronnie Milsap, whose music I’ve admired for many years. Milsap is a legend in my mind, who, like Ray Charles, rose above brutal adversity to become a living legend in his time. We asked him what he’s been up to, and not surprisingly, he’s been as busy as ever. He said, "We just keep working every year. I love to do what I’m doing. I love the music. I love the playing live, on the road. I’ve got a good band that’s been with me a long time, and an incredible team of people and we just keep coming up with things to do." He continued, "I’ve got three projects this year, a couple of them haven’t been inked out yet, as far as signed…but there’s one thing that is exciting! I’ve gotten to a place where I don’t like what happens at major record labels, and I’ve always been a free spirit; I like recording the things that are meaningful to me. So that’s what we’re doing this year, we can start our own record label and it’s a great time to do that!"

Next, we ran into gorgeous Brian White, who spoke to us about his career in music since the ‘90’s. "I just continue to persevere because ultimately it’s just because it’s what I know, music’s what I know best. I’ve really learned a trade. I feel like I’m multi-tiered." He continued by telling us about his great new project, "It’s a new album. It’ll be a 12 song CD called "Dustbowl Dreams". That’s also the title track, and it’s a song that I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but I think things happen in the right timing and I finally wrote a song that really encompasses who I am, my heritage as an Oklahoman. I’m basically saying I’m a product of Dustbowl dreamers."

At one point, we caught up with Jewel, who had a lot to say about the music business, "My career was broken by how people get to know me in untraditional formats in really organic, grass roots ways- through a lot of touring and finally it really started to catch on. You can have the # 1 record where the artist doesn’t really have a personality or brand that the consumer can understand, and it won’t sell a record and we’ve all seen that". She added, "In my case, my audience is so familiar with me and attached to me on a personal level, that they’re going to go with me wherever I go, and that’s really important!"

Brad Cotter’s career has been more up and down than some of the other artists we’ve spoken to. He told Dish, "It’s been a rollercoaster ride. It’s been a crazy ride to say the least, but like anything, any endeavor in life, there’s some positive and there’s some negatives, I just try to not let the highs get me too high and the lows get me too low." The artist, who has a song "I Meant To" on new artist Darren TK’s new CD adds, "I just kind of take it with a grain of salt. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I just do what I do and the let the rest happen the way it happens."

Next, BMI and Country Aircheck sponsored WCRS Live! which featured performances by songwriters Jennifer Hanson, Dean Dillon, Eric Church and Casey Beathard, plus the awarding of a #1 plaque to Jim Beavers for his hit song "Watching Airplanes" (performed by Gary Allen).

That night there was much to do, from the anuual SonyBMG Riverboat Ride featuring artists from new sign Craig Morgan, to Nashville Star’s Chris Young, to superstars including Kenney Chesney. For the landlubbers in the crowd, lots more fun was to be found at the Impact Radio Networks showcase at the Wildhorse Saloon, featuring Laura Bryna, Katie Armiger, Phil Stacey, and Mark Chesnutt, among others, while Lonestar whooped it up at the CO 5 Music Nashville and Major 7th Entertainment showcase in the Renaissance Hotel Fisk Room. We also caught the Warner Bros./Raybaw James Otto show ("Just Got Started Lovin’ You) at Sambucca, while Taylor Swift hosted the Big Machine/Valory/GAC/ABCRN party featuring the awesome Jewel, Jack Ingram, Jimmy Wayne and more.

Friday stared out again with terrific panels about Sales and Technology, including the fascinating "Investing in the Future: How Radio and Records Can Break An Act". Later, with stomaches grumbling, and ears ready for some more music, the crowd sat down at The Capitol Lunch and Performance, which featured new artists Lady Antebellum and Emily West. Lady Antebellum features the adorable Charles Kelley and multi-instrumentalist Dave Haywood, plus Linda Davis and Lang Scott’s daughter Hillary Scott on vocals. Scott, addressing the audience, admitted she met Kelley in a bar! Now how’s that for luck? And newcomer Emily West can really sing, as she blew the audience away with her blonde beauty, songwriting, and talent. Her first single, called "Rocks in Your Shoes" is after a parable told by Emily’s Grandfather-if you party too hardy (country broadcasters take note!) the night before, the Lord will make you wear ‘rocks in your shoes’ the following day in penance.

The final afternoon brought us Life Of A Legend with George Jones, as interviewed by famed songwriter and producer Norro Wilson. Jones spoke about his career, his favorite country singers (Merle Haggard), Tammy, his wife Nancy, and what it’s like for him in the music business today. George looked relaxed, answered the questions with apparent honesty, and charmed the crowd with his drole wit. Also in the audience-Georgette Jones, George and Tammy’s daughter, who is finally giving solo stardom a try, by co-writing "You and Me and Time", and recording it as a duet with her dad as the new single off his new record. She will also channel her late mother in an upcoming 1/2 hour TV series produced for Viacom entitled "Sordid Lives". Watch for it!

Finally it was CRS’ final night, and time for the famed New Faces Cocktail Reception (featuring Midas Records new band Whiskey Falls) and Show. Appearing on the New Faces show is a really big deal for the young artists invited to perform, because it is a ‘by invitation only’ event- with the radio programmers themselves voting for whom they would like to see perform. This year, the talented Luke Bryan, Jason Michael Carroll, Bucky Covington, Jake Owen, and the very-sexy-for-her-young age, Taylor Swift were chosen by the attentive crowd. All acquitted themselves very well, and it was easy to see why they were all up there on that stage.

Finally, it was the final blow-out of the week-Blair Garner’s Disco Party’s 14th Year of getting you to put on your dancing shoes and dancing the night away as country acts wearing silly costumes perform some sizzling hot- rock ‘n roll. And this year there was an extra special something extra- as "I Will Survive"’s Gloria Gaynor made a surprise late-night appearance.

Now, in case you thought that this all sounds like too-much-fun, not work, I want to be sure you all understand that- it is fun- and I can’t wait to return again next year for CRS 40! Can you imagine the blow-out that’s going to be? So if you’re a country artist, or work in Country Radio-don’t be a fool. Go to and mark your calendars for next year’s event.

Hope to see you there!

Check out four of the hottest new country artists in town with these exclusive Dish interviews: James Otto, Phil Stacey, Jeremy McCombs & Mica Roberts








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