The New Faces Show that concluded Country Music Seminar Friday night (March 1) at the Nashville Convention Center was the most entertaining one in recent memory -- and not just because of a certain surprise guest who popped in to pump up the final song.
Photo Credit: Aristo PR
Spotlighted on the show were Easton Corbin, Brantley Gilbert, Kip Moore, Jana Kramer and Florida Georgia Line.
Unlike in former years, when many of the conventioneers skipped New Faces to head home early, this year's show was packed, with every table in the giant exhibit hall filled and rows of seats added in front of the sound board to catch the overflow.
Apart from the talent, which was uniformly strong, the elements that made this performance so forceful were the concert-quality staging and lighting.
In years past, each performer came out and played in front of the same plain backdrop. This year, the backdrop was filled with a projection of the featured artist's name and logo. That may seem a negligible addition, but it instantly made the artist look like a big deal rather than some hopeful amateur begging for attention.
Lights surrounding the stage pulsated and stabbed out over the audience, focusing the eyes front and center.
Each performer was allotted time to sing four songs and introduced via a short humorous video aimed at summarizing the act's background and essential appeal.
Corbin opened his set -- and the show -- with "All Over the Road" and then moved on to his first hit, "A Little More Country Than That."
Clad in a long-sleeved, checkered flannel shirt tucked into blue jeans, he looked comfortable and completely in command. He finished with "Loving You Is Fun" and "Roll With It."
That Corbin was not wearing one of those horrid baseball caps that have become de rigueur of late added much to his charm.
Gilbert wasted no time in grabbing the crowd's ears. With electric guitars and cymbals shrilling, he belted out his breakthrough musical manifesto, "Country Must Be Country Wide."
Next came the softer "You Don't Know Her Like I Do." Detecting what he termed "an awkward silence" in the audience when he finished the song, Gilbert chided, "If I could give every one of you a Red Bull and take your chairs away, I would."
After delivering "More Than Miles," Gilbert again spoke to the crowd -- which was still not living up to his standard of enthusiasm.
"You'd probably like to hear something laid-back," he mused. "But we're not going to be able to do that. So, fellas, let's crank this shit up."
And they did, exploding into the raucous "Kick It in the Sticks." As the song careened toward the end, Gilbert shouted out, "Y'all awake yet?"
His egging them on earned him a standing ovation from many in the crowd. But it was a brief one.
Moore hit the stage hard with "Crazy One More Time" and then plowed on through "Beer Money," his recent No. 1 single.
For his third song, Moore picked up an acoustic guitar, sat on a stool and, in a welcome change of pace, crooned, "Hey Pretty Girl." It won him the loudest and most sustained applause of the evening up to that point.
Capping his set with his debut hit, "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck," Moore went down into the audience to tap a few hands, then returned to the stage for a big finish.
Kramer began with "Whiskey" and "I Hope It Rains." Before uttering the opening words of the wistful "Over You by Now," she told the audience it was radio's positive reactions to this song that enables her to "wipe out [her] doubts" when she goes onstage to sing.
She exited with her imploring and crowd-pleasing signature song, "Why Ya Wanna."
The crowd cheered long and heartily when the evening's final act, Florida Georgia Line, was announced.
And the duo, comprised of longhaired Tyler Hubbard and shorthaired Brian Kelley, didn't fail their admirers. They sashayed on with the rat-a-tat rap "Itz Just What We Do" and blazed ahead with the drum-driven "Round Here."
Kelley got the crowd clapping and waving their hands aloft to propel "Get Your Shine On."
By the time they segued into "Cruise," their first No. 1 single and last song of the evening, clusters of people in the audience were standing and swaying without being told to.
Then the real magic hit. Without being announced, Taylor Swift (the duo's labelmate at Big Machine Label Group) pranced out from the wings, dressed in a thigh-high, open-back black dress and began singing along with the band and jumping up and down like a high schooler at her first rock concert.
No one could have asked for a better closer.
View photos from the CRS New Faces Show.