With surprise appearances by Peter Frampton and Steppenwolf's John Kay, the Sony Music Nashville extravaganza aboard the General Jackson showboat Thursday night (March 5) lived up to its reputation of being the single most star-spangled event of Country Radio Seminar. The General Jackson floated celebrants up and down the Cumberland River in Nashville for the three-hour show.
Photo Credit: Tony Phipps
Facing an audience of approximately 650 radio and music industry guests, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Gretchen Wilson and Jason Michael Carroll performed selections from their forthcoming albums. Carrie Underwood, Montgomery Gentry and Craig Morgan reprised recent hits, and Kellie Pickler and Chuck Wicks chatted with the show's host, TV personality Robin Meade, about their non-musical sidelines.
Oh, yes, Frampton and Kay literally rocked the boat with their volcanic hits. More on that later.
Chesney went on first, accompanied by his friend and songwriting partner, Brett James. He opened with the raucous "Out Last Night," which he indicated was a more-or-less accurate chronicle of his and James' nocturnal roarings. It will be his next single.
The song was so new, Chesney had to sing it from a lyric sheet. Even so, he faltered a couple of times -- not that it mattered at all to his enthusiastic listeners.
With James taking the vocal lead, Chesney provided harmonies on "When the Sun Goes Down," Chesney's No. 1 single from 2004. (James wrote the song and even recorded it on an album for Arista Records that was never released.)
"I wanted to be the first," Chesney told the crowd, "so I could come out afterward and have a few drinks."
He, like most of the other acts, was limited to two songs. At the end of Chesney's set, Sony Music Nashville chief Joe Galante presented him with a crystal plaque for having achieved 15 million downloads. That feat, Galante pointed out, made him the biggest digital-selling artist in the country format.
McBride followed Chesney with "Ride," the first track from her album Shine, that is due out March 24. She concluded with another new song, "I Just Call You Mine," which she belted out as if she were heralding the Second Coming.
Galante gave McBride a plaque marking her career total of 18 million albums sold.
Montgomery Gentry came next. The duo began with its most recent hit, "Roll With Me," and then brought out Kay to roll back memories with Steppenwolf's 1968 classic, "Born to Be Wild." His feverishly commanding performance earned the evening's first standing ovation.
While the stage set was being changed -- each act brought its own band or backing musicians -- Pickler chatted with Meade about her endorsement deal with Big Sexy Hair and of co-writing her current single, "Best Days of Your Life," with pal Taylor Swift.
Pickler said she's already done the photo shoot for the Big Sexy Hair advertising campaign and that the promotion will launch next month.
She and Swift came up with "Best Days of Your Life," Pickler reported, in response to one of Pickler's thwarted romances. "We wrote the song about a pig I used to date," the singer said with her usual forthrightness. "He was an asshole."
During a later set change, Chuck Wicks told Meade about the intimate "pelvis-to-pelvis" choreographic instruction Julianne Hough, his girlfriend and fellow recording artist, gave him for their upcoming appearances on Dancing With the Stars.
When guests first seated themselves at their dinner tables, they saw at each place setting a pair of two-and-a-half inch hoop earrings attached to a card that read, "She's back."
The "she," it turned out, was Gretchen Wilson. When she came out to sing, the reason for the teaser gift became apparent. Her first song -- and next single -- was "Don't Make Me Take My Earrings Out," a combative song somewhat on the order of Loretta Lynn's "Fist City."
Wilson said she's been hard at work on her next album at the studio she built on her farm. This time around, she's working with producer Blake Chancey. Her final song was "As Far as You Know," a pulsating yowl, which she warned the radio programmers might be a bit too "heavy" for their purposes.
Craig Morgan, who made his bow as a new Sony artist on last year's boat show, sang only one song, "God Must Really Love Me." It's from his first BNA album, That's Why.
Jason Michael Carroll gave one of the show's most dynamic performances via two new songs: "Where I'm From" and "That's All I Know." They're from his second Arista album, Growing Up Is Getting Old, which is set for release on April 28.
Carroll and Meade bantered about growing up as the children of preachers. He said that when he was 15, his father caught him with a "pirated copy" of "Achy Breaky Heart" hidden under his mattress and spanked him for the transgression.
Underwood scorched the room with her opening salvo, "Flat on the Floor," and then immediately cooled things down with her mournful rendition of the Randy Travis standard, "I Told You So."
Galante gifted her with a trophy for having sold 10 million copies of her first two albums during the four years since she won the American Idol competition. "I can't process all the things that have happened these past four years," she marveled.
To celebrate her achievement, she invited everyone to join her at a bowling party after the show was over.
Next, Paisley ambled out on stage and sat down patiently while co-host Tom Baldrica introduced him. His first song was the wistful, reflective "Then." He followed it with the decidedly more upbeat "American Saturday Night," which, he told the crowd, is the title cut of his impending album. The CD will be out June 30.
Usually a wisecracker, Paisley seemed subdued during his appearance, speaking only briefly to the audience. He did announce that his wife is due to deliver their second child four weeks from now. But there was nothing subdued about his singing and picking. They came across just fine.
Baldrica brought Frampton out to close the show -- and he did so in grand style. Opening with a guitar solo that sent tidal waves of sound across the room, he then called McBride and Underwood out to accompany him on his 1976 smash, "Baby, I Love Your Way." Powered as it was by a potent mix of nostalgia and urgent vocals, the performance brought the crowd to its feet.
Frampton lamented that he couldn't afford to take McBride and Underwood with him on his tour this summer.
The rocker finished his set with another hit from 1976, "Do You Feel Like We Do," and beckoned Paisley to join him in a wild electric guitar jam. This earned him his second standing ovation, just as the General Jackson returned to the dock.
View photos from the Sony Music showcase.