Ketchum, Montgomery, McCann Sing to Deaf Ears

Had the radio programmers swarming in the
balcony been crop-dusted with Ritalin, it might
have been a good show. As it was, though, the
artists who opened Country Radio Seminar
Tuesday night (Feb. 27) with a concert at the
Ryman Auditorium had to face an audience that
didn’t particularly want to hear them. While there
was considerable enthusiasm for the music from
the general public seated downstairs, the CRS
crowd in the balcony would neither sit still nor be still.

Sponsored by the WEA-distributed group of labels,
the two-hour show was built on brief performances
by Warner Bros.’ Lila McCann, Curb’s Hal Ketchum, Asylum’s Chalee Tennison,
Atlantic’s South Sixty-Five and John Michael Montgomery and Giant’s Blake
Shelton and Christy Sutherland. Comedian Henry Cho emceed to what surely
must have been the most noxiously indifferent audience of his career.

McCann opened with an energetic five-song set that was severely damaged by
muddy sound and the distraction of latecomers. Shelton, who had played this
same gig a year ago, remarked dryly, “Thank you for making it out to my second
annual debut.” He, South Sixty-Five, Sutherland and Tennison were limited to
two songs each.

It wasn’t an N’ Sync level of hysteria, but South Sixty-Five did elicit some
impressive juvenile screams with its unaccountably sunny version of “The Most
Beautiful Girl.” In a more attentive setting, Sutherland’s “I Love That Man” would
have been a showstopper. Here it commanded only clusters of strong cheering.
Tennison was a riveting performer and might have taken control of the crowd had
she been given more time. Her “Go Back” was so urgent and heartfelt that it
came close to stopping the chatter.

Ketchum tapped into a rich vein of applause when he opened his set with “Small
Town Saturday Night,” his first hit from 1991. He followed with the irresistible
“Past the Point of Rescue” and wrapped it up with his current single, “She Is.”

Montgomery hobbled in on crutches to close the show. It was one of the singer’s
first performances since he broke his leg two months ago. The crowd, which by
this time had dwindled considerably, seemed touched by both his dedication and
his music. Montgomery did four songs, including “I Swear” and “The Little Girl.”
But fully as moving as these two essentials was the gentle tribute to his father,
“Thanks for the G Chord.”

Most of the artists used the occasion to introduce their upcoming singles, but
there was little chance to appreciate them amidst the din.

The Country Radio Seminar — a mix of industry panels, meetings and musical
showcases — continues through Saturday evening (March 3) at the Nashville
Convention Center in downtown Nashville.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to