Keith Urban and Toby Keith were just two of the country stars working their respective rooms Wednesday night (Feb. 15) during the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville.
CRS, now in its 37th year, is designed to create a closer relationship among country radio broadcasters, record labels and artists. The event, which continues through Friday (Feb. 17), is a combination of informative panel discussions, music showcases, social schmoozing and, for some attendees, a lot of alcohol consumption.
Urban got help from Dolly Parton, Ronnie Dunn and Pat Green when he headlined the Music City Jam at the Nashville Convention Center. Opening with a solo acoustic version of “But for the Grace of God,” Urban and his band were in full electric mode by the time they hit the second song, “Days Go By.”
Recognizing that those who work in the country radio industry have likely seen his show on several occasions, Urban wisely adopted an informal attitude in offering his hits but telling the crowd he and his band would be playing some unexpected songs. Grabbing a classical guitar, Urban began playing a minor chord riff against the exotic beat of his band’s rhythm section. Joking that it sounded like a Rolling Stones song, Urban said, “All we need is a chick singer.” With that, Parton stormed the stage to sing her 1973 hit, “Jolene.”
Parton said interviewers in England and Australia have been asking about her upcoming 40th wedding anniversary. She explained, “I said, ‘I make out with my husband and pretend it’s Keith Urban.” Referring to Urban’s girlfriend, actress Nicole Kidman, Parton added, “And there’s nothing you or your long-legged girlfriend can do about it.” Parton and Urban also swapped verses on her 1979 single, “Two Doors Down.”
Green, Urban’s current tourmate, joined him for a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days.” After playfully dancing around the stage, Green told the crowd, “I’m not saying I’ve got as good a butt as he does, but I’m working on it.” Green finished his segment with his Top 10 hit, “Wave on Wave.”
Temporarily working with a different duet partner, Dunn performed Brooks & Dunn’s “Brand New Man” and laughed when Urban’s band missed some of the finer points of the song’s arrangement. Dunn followed it up with the duo’s current single, “Believe.”
Following Urban’s show, several hundred people climbed aboard a charter bus for a shuttle to a music club a few blocks away where Toby Keith presided over a showcase for his own record label, Show Dog Nashville. Adopting the form of a guitar pull, Keith sang a few of his new bus songs and then invited a rotating lineup of new (and comeback) songwriter-artists to take the stage, from Scotty Emerick and Sarah Johns to Rebecca Lynn Howard and Tim Rushlow. He even had a traffic light installed above the stage, and when it was red, you weren’t supposed to talk — although nobody was talking much anyway.
Keith brought a relaxed vibe to the showcase, and he spent most of the night listening intently to his friends. (Howard nearly stole the show with two new songs — one about staying, the other about leaving — both delivered in her confident yet controlled voice.) Keith mostly kept his head down all night, resting it on his arm, which was comfortably nestled atop his acoustic guitar. Although he’s sold millions of albums projecting a bad-boy image, it was refreshing to see him so focused on the craft of songwriting. (True to his word, his label’s motto is, “The only thing we take seriously is the music.”)
As the Hooters-like waitresses visited tables with baskets of cold hamburgers and chicken tenders, the audience settled in for the premiere of a trailer of Keith’s upcoming movie, Broken Bridges (formerly known as Angel From Montgomery). Keith also trotted out Lindsey Haun — who plays his daughter in the movie — to sing a few tunes from the soundtrack, but she seemed overwhelmed by the room full of people who could essentially make or break her career before it even starts.
Although he remained entrenched on his stool with a glass of Jack Daniels at his side, Keith then turned the stage over to Scott Borchetta and the roster of Big Machine Records, an offshoot of Show Dog Nashville — Jack Ingram, Jimmy Wayne, Taylor Swift and Danielle Peck.
Although business partners, Keith and Borchetta have reportedly had their professional differences over the years, but Borchetta commented, “This is one bad-ass mother, and I’m proud to call Toby Keith a friend.”
Keith’s response? “Hell has frozen over!”
CMT.com’s Craig Shelburne and Calvin Gilbert contributed to this story.