Cutting his teeth in the clubs, Dierks Bentley knows about tough crowds — but the roomful of programmers at Country Radio Seminar could give any roughnecks a run for their money. While he did a fine job overall, Bentley forgot one crucial rule during his luncheon performance at CRS on Friday (Feb. 17) in Nashville: People in the business don’t sing along.
It was another one of those unfortunate moments at the notoriously stoic convention when a huge hit — in this case, “Come a Little Closer” — might bring down the house anywhere else, but you can almost hear the crickets when the singer sticks the microphone toward the crowd and hollers, “Everybody now!”
Although the half-hour set ended with a whimper, Bentley’s showcase did offer six solid songs from his newest album, Modern Day Drifter. He also announced that “Settle for a Slowdown” will probably be the last single from the album but added he’s been working on some new material. He also got to show off his new beer keg, which appears to be built into a road case to take along with the rest of his musical equipment. (It’s just not right to sing “Domestic, Light and Cold” without something … well, you know.)
Prior to Bentley’s set, newcomer Eric Church previewed his upcoming album on Capitol Nashville. Empowered with a worthy country voice, the rock arrangements and guitar assaults threatened to diminish his initial impression as a viable star for the country format. However, when he scaled back for an acoustic take of “Lightning” — about an execution by electric chair — his cinematic imagery held the audience captive.
Before the showcases, the crowd dined on lasagna and mixed vegetables, and Capitol offered new videos for Keith Urban’s vulnerable “Tonight I Wanna Cry” and Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand’s boisterous “Banjo Boy.” They also bragged on the 2005 accomplishments of their entire roster, including Trace Adkins, Chris Cagle, Merle Haggard, Jamie O’Neal and Kenny Rogers.
Earlier in the day, Rogers took part in an extensive Q&A, chatting about his career highlights, his new record deal and his musical heroes and friends, including Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, Lionel Richie and Dottie West. Asked about the boundaries of what is and isn’t considered country, Rogers said, “When ‘Lady’ came out, that was not a country record. At that time, country music was what country people would buy. Now, country music is what country radio will play. If they don’t play it, you won’t get the opportunity to buy it.”
He also offered a lesson that up-and-coming artists should take to heart.
“I get to meet kids from time to time, and I’m quick to tell them, ‘If you’re getting into this for the money, don’t get into it, because you won’t last long enough to make the money,'” Rogers said. “It’s the guys who are in it — who don’t want to do anything else — who stick around long enough for success to find them. Talent is not the ultimate deciding factor. … There are guys who sing circles around me, but I’ve been out here long enough, there’s a stature to survival.”
However, looking around the Nashville Convention Center that morning, there were very few — if any — country artists (aside from Rogers) to be found. Of course, anyone can be forgiven for staying up late the night before to mingle with the superstars.
At the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Thursday night (Feb. 16), Hank Williams Jr. reminisced about his childhood during an acoustic set of old, new and surprising material (including a cover of “Great Balls of Fire”). The crowd of admirers included Alabama’s Jeff Cook, Tracy Byrd and Collin Raye.
Meanwhile, out on the Cumberland River and the General Jackson riverboat, the RCA Label Group trotted out its own roster for a night of music from Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney (who got a plaque for 25 million albums sold), Alan Jackson, Lonestar and new artists Blaine Larsen, the Lost Trailers and Jake Owen. Martina McBride and Ronnie Milsap harmonized on “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” which earned them a standing ovation. Carrie Underwood also tearfully accepted a plaque for her double platinum album, Some Hearts, noting that she had never imagined her first album and single would do so well.
CRS continues through Friday night when the New Faces show offers Jason Aldean, Keith Anderson, Jeff Bates, Hot Apple Pie and Little Big Town.