(Photo Credits: Bev Moser)
That droning buzz you hear from downtown Nashville emanates from the constant schmoozing of the 2,400-plus attendees of this year’s Country Radio Seminar. These are radio people. They talk for a living. And they LOVE to talk. So go with the flow.
The unofficial kick-off of the convention is the MusicRow “Meet & Greet Country Breakout Awards” event. Tuesday afternoon (2/18) marked the 12th annual such gathering. A record-setting 666 people RSVP’d this year for the event at Margaritaville’s upstairs party spaces, so working the packed venue was pretty challenging.
The crowd was already at full schmoozola volume when MR’s Sherod Robertson took the stage to welcome one and all. “Looks like you’re having a fun time already,” he said to the thundering herd.
Sherod introduced the convention’s first showcasing act, Natalie Stovall & The Drive. “This is our first-ever official CRS, so thank you guys so much,” said Natalie. This might be their first radio convention, but these folks play 200+ dates a year, and the experience shows.
The group’s zesty, driving country-rock sound was punched home via take-no-prisoners showmanship and personality. The Drive is a kick-ass band, and cascading-coiffed Natalie switched delightfully from guitar to mandolin to fiddle during its three-song set. The act concluded with its rollicking, barn-burning, radio-rising single “Baby Come On With It.”
Sherod told us that Natalie Stovall & The Drive has been named “Artist To Watch” by Country Weekly, Billboard and several other media outlets. It has been a “Highway Find” on Sirius/XM’s The Highway channel. “Baby Come On With It” was a top-five most-added single the week it was released. For my money, the group delivered one of the best MusicRow CRS showcase performances. Natalie Stovall & The Drive record for Skip Bishop’s new HitShop Records imprint.
The other showcasing artist at the event was the duo Native Run. The members are Virginia natives Rachel Beauregard and Bryan Dawley. Signed to Show Dog Universal, they’re being produced by Luke Laird and published as songwriters by Creative Nation and Combustion Music. They are also signed to Fusion Music. Paste magazine has hailed Native Run as “The Best of What’s Next.”
“This is our first CRS: We’re so happy to be here,” said Rachel. The duo unleashed a sound that is youthful, ebullient, earnest and sincere. The band was ultra tight, and the team’s vocal harmonies are spot-on. Rachel’s stage presence is undeniably vivacious, and Bryan can really play that guitar he wields. Also: The songs are extremely well written. If first impressions are lasting impressions, Native Run has it made.
“This is my first CRS,” said Kelly Green of Huntingdon, TN. “If it looks like I’m as lost as a new goose on the farm, it’s because I am.” Kelly was announced as MusicRow’s radio-chart Reporter of the Year by Chart Director Michael Smith. His station is—get ready—WEIO The Farm. Kelly spoke for the entire MR reporting panel by saying, “We play the new music first. If you don’t believe me, just ask Florida Georgia Line.” This is, indeed, the value of MR’s secondary stations. They break new artists, and the major markets follow.
“Happy CRS,” said Kimberly Perry of The Band Perry. “We appreciate all of you.” Her trio was MR’s Group/Duo of the Year. “You’ve supported the heck out of our Pioneer Tour.” The Band Perry next goes out on the road with Male Breakout winner Blake Shelton. His award was accepted by his producer, Scott Hendricks. The Female winner was Mrs. Blake, Miranda Lambert, accepted by Sony head honcho Gary Overton, sporting a sporty new buzz-cut.
Introduced this year was the Breakout Songwriter award. Rodney Clawson had seven No. 1 songs on the MR chart last year. Guess who won? “Thank you all from country radio for playing the songs,” he said, “and my publisher and all my BMI friends.”
“It’s great to be an independent artist,” said Tracy Lawrence. “We have a lot of freedom.” His spins on the MR chart earned him the Breakout Independent Artist award for the year.
This award is so remarkable and so deserved: Capitol Records Nashville was named the MR Label of the Year for the ninth consecutive, tenth overall, time. Superstar promoter Steve Hodges accepted, lauding Diane Richey for working the label’s singles for most of those years.
Kacey Musgraves won Breakout Artist. Mercury Records promo VP Damon Moberly accepted, saying, “Thank you for being brave enough to play a female, because we don’t have enough of them these days.” Expect this to be a recurring theme at this year’s CRS.
The crowded room was worked by Mandy Barnett, Kelly Lang, Stephanie Grace and dozens of other baby indie acts, plus veteran singer-songwriter Bernie Nelson. Kelly has a duet CD with hubby T.G. Sheppard on the way. Bernie is working on a long-overdue CD as an artist. Why? “I was getting splinters on my ass from sitting on my porch.” Love him.
Adding to the schmoozing din were David Wykoff, David Ross, Lee Smoot, Lee Richey, Becky Harris, Judy Harris, Mark Wright, Fletcher Foster, Steve O’Brien, Regina Stuve, Vanessa Parker, Pat Higdon, Cliff Doyall, Chuck Dauphin, Wes Vause, Dennis Banka, Bill Wence, Ed Salamon, Tom Baldrica, Preshias Harris, Susan Collier and Paula Szeigis.
The beehive is buzz, buzz, buzzing. Country Radio Seminar is underway.