It was just down the street a few blocks from the official happenings at the Country Radio
Seminar, but the “Country’s Class of 2000″ showcase at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon felt
like it was a world away.
Held immediately following the annual New Faces show Saturday night (March 2), the Class
of 2000 event was produced by record labels DreamWorks Nashville, Mercury and Lyric
Street. It featured rising stars Darryl Worley , Jamie O’Neal and Rascal Flatts , playing to a
packed house of real, live country music fans and CRS attendees.
Hot actor Russell Crowe was there, too. But we’ll get to him in a minute.
Unlike the private New Faces show, where five acts performed abbreviated sets to a sterile room of jaded radio professionals, the
Wildhorse show generated real energy. Fans jammed the front of the room; couples danced in the back. Folks cheered, sang along
and generally enjoyed the Saturday night festivities. It was a scene the record labels wanted the radio pros to see — country music
fans turning out to enjoy their artists’ music.
The excitement reached a fever pitch when Gladiator star Crowe joined fellow Aussie (and former high school classmate) O’Neal on
stage. The Oscar-nominated actor, attractively disheveled in black leather pants and a black, untucked shirt, told the crowd he just
“happened to be in Nashville tonight” and saw O’Neal’s name on the Wildhorse sign. “I asked the mate out front, ‘That wouldn’t be
Jamie O’Neal of Melbourne, Australia, now would it?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I believe it would.’” Crowe made his way backstage, and,
later, onstage to play acoustic guitar and sing Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” in a pleasant, raspy voice. O’Neal then plugged
Crowe’s new album with his band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. Crowe never divulged his reason for being in Nashville.
O’Neal plugged her own music for the radio crowd, too, singing her recent No. 1 hit, “There is No Arizona,” backed by ace harmonica
player Jelly Roll Johnson, guitarist Brent Mason and her new husband, guitarist and background vocalist Rodney Good. O’Neal also
pitched her new single, “When I Think About Angels.”
“The two most important groups of people are here — the fans and radio,” O’Neal said from the stage. “Thank you both for being
DreamWorks artist Worley opened the show to a large and loud contingent from his hometown in Pyburn, Tenn. Clearly the most
traditional country act of the night, he played his recent hits “Good Day to Run” and “When You Need My Love.” “I can’t tell you the
real story about this one,” he said of the latter, “because the girl I wrote it about is here. But thanks to my dad for helping me take
that ring back.” Worley also debuted his next single, “Second Wind,” and offered a cover of Buck Owens’ “Love’s Gonna Live Here.”
Worley wrapped up with John Mellencamp’s rocking anthem “Small Town.” Although at first it seemed a strange closer for such a
straight-up country guy, he sang it like he meant every word.
In contrast to Worley’s Alan Jackson-like, stand-still-and-sing performance, Rascal Flatts literally ran onto the stage for their closing
set. While the trio got off to a good start with the energetic “Everyday Love,” two of their wireless microphones cut out during the
second tune, which prompted bass player Jay DeMarcus to stop the band and yell out to the crowd, “Does anybody have a damn
microphone that works? Anybody? We’ll take anything.” The band left the stage for about 10 minutes while sound technicians
worked on the problem. DeMarcus, guitarist Joe Don Rooney and frontman Gary LeVox rebounded nicely, starting the show over
from the beginning and quickly regaining their energy and momentum.
“You get two ‘Everyday Loves’ for the price of one,” Demarcus joked.
The trio ran through a high-energy set, which included their No. 1 single, “Prayin’ for Daylight” and an off-color, hillbilly re-write of
Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” called “Bubba’s Girl.” The band previewed its next single, the pretty ballad “While You Loved Me.”
The Rascal Flatts harmonies were tight, which has drawn some unwanted comparisons to popsters ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys.
“We get accused of being a boy band,” DeMarcus explained to the crowd. “But, unlike most of those bands, we play our own
As if to prove the point, the band broke down in the middle of “One Good Love” for some funk-laden bass, guitar and drum solos. It
was a little much and lasted a little long, but the musicianship of Rooney and DeMarcus can’t be denied.