None of them ignited the room, but each of the five acts featured on Country Radio Seminar's New Faces Show Friday night (March 4) at the Nashville Convention Center generated plenty of honest applause. The well-attended dinner and show was the final event of the three-day annual convention.
Photo Credit: Marilu White
Showcasing with their own bands were Josh Gracin, Blue County, Julie Roberts, Billy Currington and Sugarland. CRS veteran Charlie Monk and comedian T. Bubba Bechtol co-hosted the proceedings.
Before the singing began, Victor Sansone, board president of the Country Music Association and president and general manager of the ABC Radio Group, pleaded with the broadcasters to present a "united front" in supporting this year's move of the CMA Awards show from Nashville to New York. Arguing that the much-disputed one-time move will be good for country music, Sansone said the CMA is offering radio stations a range of materials and promotional ideas to get their listeners involved in the show.
Following Sansone's remarks was a showing of Neal McCoy's new music video, "Billy's Got His Beer Goggles On," which stars comedian Rob Schneider. It is also the first video from McCoy's recently formed record label, 903 Music.
Monk welcomed the conventioneers to Nashville, a city, he said, "where singers intentionally drive drunk in hope of promoting their new albums" and "where you can now go to the CMA Music Festival or [the] Bonnaroo [rock festival] and not know the difference."
As in past New Faces shows, each act performing was introduced by a humorous video. Gracin's showed a party-crazed Lyric Street Records staff that only straightened up and appeared to be doing business when he was in the building. Blue County's depicted the duo struggling to establish its own image as it sampled those of Brooks & Dunn, Montgomery Gentry and, most desperately, the Judds. Roberts, Currington and Sugarland had intros that were takeoffs on the TV series 24.
Despite his strong vocals and plucky determination to find a groove, Gracin's stage presence remained rather wooden. By contrast, Blue County seemed perfectly at ease in the spotlight, if a bit histrionic at times. But they did hold the audience spellbound with their inspirational final number, "Walk on Water."
Clad in black and sporting a ponytail, Roberts quickly engaged the crowd with "Break Down Here" and set it to applauding with the opening lines of "Wake Up Older," her current single. She also drew a strong response for her reading of "Sweet Dreams," which, she explained, she had sung for last year's CMT special, 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music.
Although dressed to show off his Playgirl physique -- he's on the magazine's March cover -- Currington made no mention of the "Party for Two" hormone fest with Shania Twain that sparked it all. And he tempered his generally up-tempo set with his earnest and wistful first hit, "Walk a Little Straighter."
The sheer dynamism and charisma of Sugarland's lead singer, Jennifer Nettles, kept the audience leaning forward as the evening neared its end. Just as Randy Owen became the essential face of Alabama, Nettles seems poised to do the same with Sugarland. They ended their program -- and the show -- with "Baby Girl" and were rewarded a standing ovation.
Between acts, the rotund Bechtol ran the gamut of fat jokes ("This badge says, 'I Beat Anorexia.'") almost into the ground. His funniest crack of the show was, "My first wife's name is 'Plaintiff.'"
"I Want to Live"
"Endless, Helpless Hoping"
"Turn It Up"
"Nothin' to Lose"
"Good Little Girls"
"That Summer Song"
"Walk on Water"
"Break Down Here"
"Wake Up Older"
"No Way Out"
"Rain on a Tin Roof"
"That's Just Me"
"Walk a Little Straighter"
"I Got a Feelin'"
"Down in Mississippi (Up to No Good)"
"Just Might (Make Me Believe)"