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Well, it’s March, and that means it’s CRS time once again! Each year the highly regarded and highly anticipated event brings together country radio’s most important  programmers and dj’s and country music’s biggest stars, newest faces, and promising and most hopeful young stars for four days of seminars, networking, musical performances and best of all, parties!  This year was extra-special because Country Radio Seminar celebrated its 40th birthday, but hardly looked her age. Although it’s an industry-only event, Dish was lucky enough to be there, in order to let you know what country music has in store for all of us next year!


Festivities began on Tuesday with a BMI #1 party for country superstar Faith Hill for her song “A Baby Changes Everything” written by the now writing duo the Wisemans, Craig and wife KK, and Tim Nichols. Wiseman and Nichols are best known for their smash hit, “Live Like You Were Dying” with Faith’s husband Tim McGraw. The song sat on the shelf for a few years until it was cut for Faith’s album Joy to the World, but the wait was worth it.


Hill stepped up to the microphone, to speak to the small group of fiend’s and well-wishers at the event. “I have to say that it’s hard to put into words how very meaningful it was that you guys,  and  KK ladies, held this song for so long for us. We cut this song in 2004, we cut it for my Fireflies album, but it was so special and so unique that we knew that it wouldn’t see the light of day the way that it should on that album. So Dann (Huff, co-producer) called Craig and pleaded our case and begged to hold this song and we kept calling year after year after year because we knew this song should be on the Christmas album. I promised KK, and Tim that it would be the only original new song on the album, and I believe it is one of the most wide reaching songs I have ever recorded”


The song has become Faith’s 13th # 1 hit. When asked if he wrote the song for Faith, Craig stated that he “writes songs on Faith, not for Faith.” (Joshua Jeffries)


Per usual, CRS kicked off on Tuesday night with the one and only Country Music DJ & Radio Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony, which this year honored Chuck Collier and Gerry House who were inducted into the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame, while Bob McKay and Moon Mullins were the Country Music Radio Hall of Fame inductees. It has been reported that the ceremony was brightened, or disturbed (depending on your point of view) this year by an irascible Merle Haggard, who turned his Career Achievement Award honor into an occasion to rant against his former label president-repeatedly. Haggard eventually turned and left, leaving his award and a standing ovation behind. Now that’s an outlaw!!

Ironically, the ceremony also included a pair of Haggard songs sung earlier in the evening, one performed by Jack Ingram (”Are the Good Times Really Over”) and the other by Emmylou Harris, (“Kern River”).


Newcomer songwriting outlaw Jamey Johnson is definitely a big story this year, emerging from the shadows with a full-blown presence and a #1 song “In Color”. He showed his muscle at 4 exciting events this year. The first was Wednesday’s “Downtown Shutdown” where Johnson took the stage on the closed off streets outside the convention center, performing for an enthusiastic audience of about 1000 industry folk and admirers. The following day he showed off his songwriting ability at the BMI sponsored WCRS Live! wchich also featured the songwriting talent of Josh Turner, Bobby Pinson and the legendary Paul Overstreet. Johnson amused the crowd when Pinson stopped performing in the middle of Sugarland’s  “All I Want To Do” and asked the crowd if they wanted Johnson to sing the “ooh-ooh-ohh” part. “Never”, Johnson replied, “surround yourself with a-holes!” And on Thursday, Johnson performed at a late night show with somewhat of an outlaw herself, the amazing Holly Williams.


Wednesday’s Golden Music/Nine North/ American Country Countdown with Kix Brooks-sponsored luncheon featured the emerging band Williams Riley that included their single “I’m Still Me” with an assist from singer/songwriter buddy Edwin McCain. Although they've only been together for about six months, the Williams Riley Band can already boast an impressive list of collaborators, including legendary rock guitarist Slash. The former Guns N' Roses member takes a stab at country on the band's self-titled debut album. Label-mate Benton Blount followed, performing songs from his new album, including the Nashville anthem-like “Leavin’ This Town”.


After kicking ass along with newcomers hot-blonde-twin-sisters Kacie and Katie at Valory Record’s kick-off Jam Tuesday night, Jimmy Wayne performed the next afternoon at ASCAP sponsored KCRS, a songwriters in-the-round where he was joined by Kelly Lovelace, Ashley Gorley and Jonathan Singleton. All shared the stories behind their hit songs, including “Do You Believe Me Now”, “Don’t”, “You’re Gonna Miss This” and “I’m Still a Guy”.


CRS was in full swing by its second official day and Dish got a chance to see Heidi Newfield and Randy Houser perform at the famous 12th and Porter venue. Newfield stomped out like she owned the place and mesmerized the crowd over a ten song set, including a couple of songs she performed live for the first time ever, including “Sometimes I Forget.” Newfield may be best known for her previous group Trick Pony but with 5 Academy of Country Music nominations she is truly establishing herself as a break away artist, and if the crowd at 12th & Porter is any indication, she has already set herself up as an artist not to miss.


Heidi then introduced Randy Houser, “One of my favorite guys out there, true talent, wonderful country voice, is coming up here to sing a few songs for ya’ll,” she said.

Randy only performed 4 songs for the still-packed house, but his performance was one I will remember, and we here at Dish will be sure to keep our eye out for him. (Joshua Jeffries) 

Later that evening came the rousing ACM Music City Jam featuring this year’s headliner superstar Tim McGraw! The proceedings got off to a great start with Taylor Swift putting in a few long-distance words by satellite from Australia. Though she missed this year’s CRS (she kicked ass at last year’s show, by the way) she vowed to return in 2010, where she’ll take McGraw’s spot as next year’s Jam hostess.


The most fun part about the Jam is that the host traditionally brings his or her friends as special guests, who this year included the Warren Brothers, who acted as the MCs, plus Lance Miller, Halfway to Hazzard (who made a huge splash last year) Lori McKenna and even McGraw’s niece Catherine Raney. Faith Hill, who also made multiple appearances at this year’s CRS introduced Jake Owen, who did a great job entertaining the crowd. Tim then stepped up to the plate and announced he was going to play an entire set of new material, a refreshing change for those of us who already know the words to most of his songs. Titles included “If I Die Today”, “Forever 17”, and “Southern Voice”. You should be able to hear them for yourself on his new album, coming soon.


Although this might seem like enough for one day, who could miss Show Dog Nashville’s CRS Smackdown IV featuring label-founder Toby Keith and the hillbilly band Trailer Choir. As to be expected, like Toby, Trailor Choir is far from being the country music same-as same-as, and puts on a remarkable, humorous and athletic show. Not to be missed if they play in a town near you!


It must be noted that for many, if not most of the CRS crowd, the end of each day’s official late-night parties and showcases is not the end of the frivolities. And that is the fault of the most entertaining Renaissance Hotel Bridge Bar, which literally hangs over Commerce Street, providing a lovely view of the city’s lights. At some time or another, every country star, radio jock, label executive,publicist and journalists with enough stamina turns up there, to star gaze or be gazed upon. On the night I stopped by, Jason Aldean performed, Darius Rucker held court, and BlackHawk’s Henry Paul chatted the night away.


For those who could crawl out of bed at the early hour of 9am, Thursday began with the highly anticipated CMA’s Research Initiative presentation, which quantifies the notable size and multi-faceted nature of the country music fan base, regarding country radio and other media, music consumption and tastes. And what that means, folks, is the industry is trying to find out how to please you! Not bad, right?


Sony Music sponsored the first musical performance of the day with a vibrant performance by Jake Owen (“Don’t Think I Can’t Love You”), followed by the usual kick-ass performance with the real redneck woman, the hair thrashing Miranda Lambert. Lambert performed several of her hits including “Kerosene”, “Famous in a Small Town”, “Gunpowder” and “Lead”. After her show, Sony Chairman Joe Galante surprised her onstage with plaques for gold single downloads and gold ringtone certification on “Gunpowder”. (Oh, how times have changed!)


Although Dish only did one interview during this year’s CRS, it was a good one. Upcoming star Richard Jaymes (Dollar and a Dream) spent some time with us, and shared some of his experiences as an artist and a songwriter. “No matter what, when you’re writing a story, a song, whatever it is, write it down. Anything’s better than a blank sheet of paper. Even if you think it’s the stupidest thing in the world, it’s a start. If you write it down, you can always come back. It just gets the ball rolling.”


While some of the CRS crowd went for a star-studded boat ride on the river that night, along with Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride and Gretchen Wilson, and others headed off to a bowling party with Carrie Underwood, Dish had the good fortune to attend an intimate and private performance by Keith Urban.


Radio seminar attendees lined up down the block for an hour-long wait Thursday night in anticipation of catching Urban’s show in this rare small setting at the Rutledge. Fans crowded the stage, cell phones and digital cameras in hand as Urban walked out with his band and plugged up, clad in a casual plaid work shirt and jeans. The Aussie quipped about being up “way past his bedtime” since the arrival of his baby girl Sunday, saying he keeps farmers hours these days. He then took the crowd on an amazing trip through a bevy of his hits like “Somebody Like You,” and “Better Life,” with the industry crowd singing along to every word. He debuted a few new tunes from his upcoming album, “Defying Gravity” as well, and admitted to being a bit nervous playing in front of a crowd again after being off for some time. It was hard to picture Urban nervous about anything, as he deftly blazed through guitar solo after guitar solo, making it look like child’s play and laughing satisfactorily when the crowd gave him the adoration he so deserves.


Urban is certainly at a point where he could bow out of these type shows during the annual radio seminar…after all, his songs are probably automatic adds to playlists at this point in his career. And the fact that he continues to show up and perform for the people who play his music is just another testament to why he is one of the most respected and hard-working artists on the country scene. When he takes the stage, the kid in him seems to immediately remember just how cool it is to be able to play music, and he lets it transport him along with the rest of the crowd, enjoying the journey as he goes. I have seen him perform at huge arenas, mid-size venues like the Ryman, and small clubs like the one on this particular night, and his enthusiasm and joy are always present and equal, no matter the size or type of the audience. He is truly a brilliant artist in every sense of the word, and my only thought as I was leaving the show was why in the world did it take Nashville a decade and a half to sign him and get his music out into the world? (Lorie Hollabaugh)

By Friday, it’s hard to believe that CRS is almost over. The dazzling array of talent has already been enough to fly a listener to the moon. But not to despair, there is still more great music to come. Capital Records sponsored Friday’s luncheon, which starred the former Hootie & the Blowfish singer-convert to Country Singer Darius Rucker, whose 2 #1 singles “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” and “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” literally flew up the charts, and the lovely Little Big Town “whose harmonies were richer than Tuesday night’s cheesecake” according to Ryan in Aristomedia’s blog, and Dish couldn’t agree more.

With so many other activities going on at CRS, it soon became clear why so many radio seminar attendees were heading off to the Fuel Bar and Nightclub on 2nd Avenue. They were there to watch Dierks Bentley receive a plaque and a Gibson guitar in celebration of his sixth #1 single, “Feel That Fire.” Brothers Brad and Brett Warren wrote the song, and they were also celebrating their first #1 with Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s new publishing company StyleSonic Music Publishing. With album titles such as Well Deserved Obscurity and Barley Famous, the Warren Brothers are obviously gracious and humble artists, but if the crowd’s reaction at Fuel was any indication, they are anything but unknown.


The audience might have come downtown for some fried food and free drinks and to cheer on the happy musicians, but they soon got an unexpected treat when two lovebirds walked out on stage. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill made a surprise appearance, much to everyone’s delight, and they praised Bentley and the Warren Brothers for their hard work and creativity. “Every time I’ve been in a room and get to write with them, I kind of just sit back and watch,” said McGraw, “and I’m amazed at the things they come up with and the ways they weave a story together. I’m proud of the things they’ve allowed me to put my name on that they’ve written.” Faith Hill agreed. “These gentlemen are true writers,” she said. “They’re true believers in the goodness and integrity of a great songwriter. Tim and I are honored to call them our dearest friends, as well as their incredibly beautiful and understanding and angelic wives.” She then called out, “Here’s to the wives in the room!”  (Jacob Sharbel)

The Life of a Legend series was especially poignant this year, as Kix Brooks interviewed Barbara Mandrell.  Mandrell’s father, Irby Mandrell, passed away the day before, but the thought of skipping the event never crossed her mind.  “My dad told me to be here today,” she said. She reminisced about her long career, including amazing stories like sleeping in Patsy Cline’s bed when the two were out on tour and Mandrell was only 15. But of course, her father was foremost on her mind. She said, ”The greatest, my dad. He was with me every step of the way. He worked with me, practiced with me. He booked my dates. He drove me when I had no other driver. Played rhythm guitars, sang harmony.”

Probably the most anticipated event at CRS, The New Faces of Country Music Show and Dinner kicked off at 6:30 pm, but not before newcomer Adam Gregory jump-started the crowd with a performance at the New Faces cocktail reception.  The young artist entertained the crowd with a set of songs from his forthcoming Big Machine release, including a clever cover of Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around Comes Around.”

This year’s New Faces lineup included performances from The Zac Brown Band, Kellie Pickler, James Otto, Chuck Wicks and Lady Antebellum, and after a delicious dinner, the crowd settled in for nearly three hours of great music.  The Zac Brown Band started the evening with a down-home, feel-good set which closed with a frenetic, finger-pickin’ crescendo in “Chicken Fried.”  Poor Chuck Wicks had to follow that performance, but did so admirably, as many ladies informed me.  Despite an uncooperative pants zipper, Kellie Pickler delivered her set with authority, and James Otto had the crowd swaying in their seats to his country-soul sound, which included his hit “Just Got Started Lovin’ You.”  Finally, Lady Antebellum closed out the show with a set that included “Love Don’t Live Here,” as well as an intriguing (or perhaps disturbing) intro video that featured the leotard-clad trio, along with Luke Bryan, dancing to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” 

You might think that enough is enough, but enough is never a word at Country Radio Seminar. Those that still had the energy went up to the Bridge Bar to keep their buzz going, and others walked over to  Cadillac Ranch, where co-sponsored a unique concert event called the 40th Anniversary Jam: A Musical Thanks to Radio.

It was the first year for the show, which boasted nearly two-dozen artists covering their favorite songs from the last four decades.  The house was packed and was treated to performances by, among others, Emerson Drive (”Fishin’ In The Dark”), Julianne Hough (”Heartache Tonight”), James Otto (”Easy”), Chuck Wicks (”Driving My Life Away”), Darryl Worley (”The Best Of My Love”), Jimmy Wayne (”Sara Smile”) and Blake Shelton, who was joined for a special performance of the Bellamy Brothers classic “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body” by girlfriend Miranda Lambert.

The best part of CRS? The 365 days we have to rest up for next year’s event!

For more CRS Coverage click here! / Issue 99 - September 9170
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