George Strait tends to steal the show anytime he chooses to perform, yet the other 20 acts performing at the Universal Music Group's lunchtime concert in Nashville didn't mind at all when he closed the show Wednesday (Feb. 27) with a three-song set.
Taking place during the annual Country Radio Seminar, the private event at the Ryman Auditorium was aimed at radio programmers as UMG celebrated the popularity of its artist roster while introducing new acts whose future success will be determined in large part by airplay on local stations.
Operating the country divisions of the MCA and Mercury imprints, UMG has always been one of the most powerful label groups in Nashville. With last year's merger between UMG and EMI, UMG's Nashville office now operates Capitol Nashville and EMI Nashville, and the executives were justifiably pleased to feature Capitol/EMI acts such as Lady Antebellum, Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Little Big Town, Eric Church, Darius Rucker and Little Big Town on this year's CRS show.
Wednesday's concert was mostly acoustic, and all performers except Strait were limited to one song each.
Lady Antebellum opened the show with their current single, "Downtown." Several acts, including Bentley, Billy Currington, David Nail and American Idol stars Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, introduced new songs which have not yet been released on albums.
In addition to Bryan, Church, Rucker and Little Big Town, the concert also featured Josh Turner, Kacey Musgraves, Randy Montana and Eric Paslay along with more recent signings such as Drake White, Kelleigh Bannen, Brothers Osborne, Chris Stapleton and Mickey Guyton.
However, two of the highlights were provided by Gill (who charted his first single for UMG in 1989) and Strait (who first charted in 1981).
At last year's UMG event, Gill announced that his contract with MCA had expired and, with no animosity whatsoever, indicated that his future with UMG was unclear. At Wednesday's concert, Gill said UMG Nashville chief Mike Dungan had asked him to continue to recording for MCA.
Noting that he hasn't started work on his new album, Gill pointed out the Ryman Auditorium's origins as a church and performed "Go Rest High on That Mountain," which he dedicated to the late Mindy McCready.
"She was a mess," Gill said. "She had struggles in life that most people can't imagine."
Although Gill conceded that he didn't know her well, he added, "She was part of country music history."
After Church performed "Like Jesus Does," Strait closed the show with "Here for a Good Time," "The Chair" and his current single, "Give It All We Got Tonight."
A man of few words, Strait didn't have a lot to say to the radio programmers, although he thanked them for their continued support and said he hopes they're playing his latest record.