Tuesday’s (Feb. 9) steady fall of snowflakes didn’t keep the stars from heating up the stage at the Ryman Auditorium during the annual Country Radio Seminar in Nashville.
Little Big Town, Chris Stapleton, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Eric Church and others from the Universal Music Group took the stage to celebrate country radio with heart and humor during the seventh annual Team UMG CRS concert and luncheon.
Little Big Town kicked off the event with a brand new, heartfelt song dedicated to attending radio programmers and personalities who have believed in them from the beginning.
Country icon Vince Gill watched the quartet from the wings, prompting Karen Fairchild to admit it made her “nervous instantly.”
Canaan Smith delivered a catchy tune titled “Stuck,” which he melded with the rock hit “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls to the delight of the audience right before Grammy-winner Kacey Musgraves and her band of boys took the stage in matching black suits to perform the sweet and lilting “Late to the Party” from her latest album Pageant Material. It was pure velvet vocal magic.
The first standing ovation of the show went to Darius Rucker, who brought the crowd to their feet with an emotional performance of “So I Sang,” a song about knowing who you are and what you’re meant to be — and going for it. Rucker held back tears as he sang the final verse honoring the support of his mother as he pursued his gift of song.
David Nail admitted he’d been fighting back tears since the start of the show as he listened to his fellow artists and friends deliver some of their finest tunes. Nail said he’s been much more emotional since becoming a dad to twins Lawson Brent and Lillian Catherine. He then delivered a song that stirred up emotions for everyone in the crowd. “Fighter,” the title track to Nail’s next album, is a song about his wife Catherine and her strength as the two struggled for years to start a family. It was powerful moment for both Nail and the audience.
And for all the tears shed, there were also many smiles onstage as well.
Fun-loving Jon Pardi hit the stage with a bit more of a traditional flair to his set … and his suit. Dressed in a rhinestone-embellished coat with a matching cowboy hat, Pardi charmed the crowd with “Head Over Boots” and a full country band.
Kip Moore ditched the big band set up in favor of gorgeous piano accompaniment on his current single “Running for You.” Moore admitted that playing at the Ryman makes him nervous.
Charles Kelley brought out a pretty special band for his spectacular performance of “The Driver.” Kelley welcomed his buddies and collaborators Dierks Bentley and Eric Paslay to perform with him in perfect three-part harmony.
But Bentley and Paslay wouldn’t be sidemen for long. Bentley took the stage to help everyone escape the cold outside with a groovy performance of his current single “Somewhere on a Beach.”
Bentley also admitted to being in awe of seeing one of his heroes, Gill, watching him from side of the stage. Bentley told the crowd that back in 1999 or 2000, when he was a young gun playing honky-tonks, Gill and his wife Amy Grant came to one of his shows.
The nostalgia would come to a halt however when Paslay took the stage next. There was little room for much other than dancing and rocking out when the singer-songwriter fired up his single, “High Class.”
But no dancing in the aisles of the Ryman could compare with the funky moves Paslay threw on the delightfully shocked audience, who hung on every word and every moonwalk (yes, you read that correctly) as he fired up every person in those pews.
And of course, Paslay received the standing ovation he richly deserved.
So did the Chris Stapleton. Before his name was even announced, the crowd went wild at just the mention of his current album Traveler. Stapleton walked out on stage sans his signature hat and humbly told the audience he thought it’d be cool to test out a new tune in the Ryman.
“My wife always liked this song,” Stapleton said of his beautiful bride and vocal collaborator Morgane, who wasn’t in attendance. With just a quiet guitar accompaniment, he floored the audience with his dynamic and powerful performance of a song he didn’t reveal the name of … but with an unparalleled voice like his and line like “I won’t love you either way,” it was a memorable moment.
Lauren Alaina showed the crowd just how much she’s grown and evolved over the past year. Dressed in a beautiful red pantsuit, the singer openly admitted to the audience that the last year had been full of personal ups and downs for her family, all of which were addressed during her performance of “Doin’ Fine.” Alaina once again proved she’s not only one of the most incredible voices in the business, she’s also one of the most sparkling personalities, handling life’s tough moments with grace and a whole lot of humor.
Eric Church also got a little cheeky with his performance of “Record Year.” He hit the stage solo with his shades on and thanked everyone for supporting his career. As far as his unprecedented decision to release that surprise album, Mr. Misunderstood? Well, Church said, “You can’t put a fence around inspiration.”
Gill also dispensed wisdom and praise as he walked out to a standing ovation and thunderous applause. The Country Music Hall of Fame member always lights up the room and the stage — and Tuesday was no exception.
“I was really taken with watching Chris sing,” Gill told the crowd. “We’ve been friends for a long, long time, and a bunch of us are friends of his who have known of his gift. It’s one of the greatest things in the world to see people have the opportunity to hear that amazing gift.”
Gill said watching Stapleton inspired him to sing a song he’d written for the late George Jones called “Sad One Coming On,” because Gill said that hearing Stapleton for the first time is like hearing George Jones for the first time.
“It’s the most undeniable thing in the world,” Gill said.
Luke Bryan continued the praise for Stapleton by joking that he and Church were backstage drawing straws to determine who was best between Gill and Stapleton. But Bryan himself delivered a worthy performance of one of his favorite tunes from his album, Kill the Lights, as he sat behind the piano and sang his heart out on “To the Moon and Back.”
Closing out the show was Keith Urban, who proves time and time again that class, talent and looks can all go hand in hand. The multi-instrumentalist sounded better than ever as he performed his new single “Break on Me.” He then grabbed the bass and played like a beast on his previous hit “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” complete with crowd participation.
It was a show you truly didn’t want to end, but fortunately, the music heard today is far from finished. The new year in country music is just getting started, and it’s going to be a great one for these amazing artists and their songs.