Luke Bryan and Keith Urban Bookend CRS Lunch in Nashville

UMG at the Ryman Concert Showcases 14 Artists

Right before Luke Bryan walked onto the Ryman Auditorium stage to open the Country Radio Seminar’s annual Universal Music Group lunch show on Thursday (Feb. 23), the label’s Royce Risser told the packed house that this was the eighth show of its kind, that 14 artists would perform and that each one would do one song.

But there were some numbers Risser didn’t mention. There would also be five standing ovations, one extra medley, a few great stories and about six or seven laugh-out-loud moments during the course of the nearly two-hour show.

Bryan, who performed alone with just an acoustic guitar, first told his industry peers how grateful he was for the way they lifted him up when his niece died earlier in the week. He played his latest single, “Fast,” which he said was the most fitting song for what his family has been going through.

Darius Rucker was next and made the most out of the moment.

“I’m gonna soak this in, because Luke Bryan just opened up for me,” Rucker joked before singing his newest song, “If I Told You.”

When it was Jon Pardi‘s turn to sing, he came right out and admitted how nervous he was.

“I had a beer, but it didn’t do the job. I still have the jitters,” he said.

His song was “Heartache on the Dance Floor,” which seemed to be a favorite of everyone sitting in the Ryman’s church pews.

Dierks Bentley was next, and he was upfront about his end game.

“The dream is to get a standing ovation at the Ryman,” Bentley said. And he got one, right after singing his “Can’t Be Replaced” ballad about stonewashed Levi’s jacket, Memorex mix tapes, Boone’s Farm kisses and his late dog Jake.

One of Bentley’s two sidemen was the highly regarded Jerry Douglas on the resonator guitar. So when Kip Moore came out to play, he couldn’t help but point out what a tough act that was to follow.

“I don’t know who planned this bullshit, going after Jerry Douglas,” Moore said.

(And when someone’s cell phone rang during the otherwise quiet pre-show chatter, Moore said, “That’s some bullshit, too.”) He played his new song, “More Girls Like You.”

The next performer — and the recipient of the second standing ovation — was Lauren Alaina. She performed “Three” — a song featured on her new album — and said she was crying happy tears all the time because of all the country radio stations who’d given her a shot at her three minutes on the radio.

Easton Corbin, Josh Turner, Lady Antebellum and Billy Currington kept the story-telling to a minimum during their respective performances of “A Girl Like You,” “Hometown Girl,” “You Look Good” and “Do I Make You Wanna.”

Playing this CRS lunch for the first time, Sam Hunt said he was happy to be there, even though wedding planning and touring are keeping him very busy. His wedding, he said, is only a couple months away. He and his four-man band played their new single “Body Like a Back Road.”

Hunt’s sexy song was followed by Chris Stapleton‘s somber one. Stapleton introduced “Broken Halos” by telling the story of who he wrote it for — his friend Mike, who he’d played Little League with as a kid, who died at 38 of pancreatic cancer.

Vince Gill was the next performer, and the only one to get two standing ovations — one when he walked onstage and another when he finished singing a song he wrote for his wife Amy Grant, in lieu of a birthday gift.

He joked that he wasn’t “going for adds,” but he did say that he remembered the first time he heard himself on the radio. It was 43 years ago, he said, and it gave him hope and possibility of the dream that would eventually become his life.

The last UMG artist of the day was Keith Urban. And he came armed with a guitar and a great story.

When he was 15, he said, he landed an internship with the country radio station 4KQ in Brisbane. His dream was to have his own radio show. So he asked his boss if he could use the empty studio to create his own fake show, and he brought some day-old news reports and a stack of vinyl records with him.

He knew he wanted his show to open with Waylon Jennings’ “Theme From the Dukes of Hazzard (Good Ol’ Boys)”. What he didn’t know was that by fooling around with the switches, he accidentally played that song live on the air — in another host’s actual show.

“They fired me,” Urban said. “It wasn’t my calling, after all.”

After that, he played a medley of songs from a handful of artists we lost in the past year — George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the Eagles’ “Take It Easy” (in memory of Glenn Frey), David Bowie’s “Heroes,” Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and Prince’s “Purple Rain” — and then his own “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” when he was joined by Stapleton and Gill on guitar.

That passionate jam session got the final and very well-deserved standing ovation of the day.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.