(Ben Krebs © GCOM)
Each year, thousands of radio professionals travel to Nashville for the Country Radio Seminar (CRS). The annual three-day gathering is packed with live music, industry-related panels, parties and surprises, and this year I was lucky enough to attend and to take it all in.
Between artist interviews, label showcases and even a few ‘secret’ events, I covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. There were tons of highlights, but below I’ve singled out my top 10 CRS moments. For the rest of the list, visit Radio.com.
1. Garth Brooks’ Secret Club Show
Garth Brooks came out of retirement last year and has been selling out arenas ever since. So, to witness the country singer live at a small club with a few hundred people was an experience that will likely never happen again. Though he has been off the grid for nearly 20 years, it was impossible to tell. He put on the show with the same energy as if it was a sold-out gig at Madison Square Garden. In addition to playing some new material off his latest release Man Against Machine, Brooks’ set spanned his catalog of hits including “The Dance,” “The Thunder Rolls,” “Callin’ Baton Rouge” and fan favorite “Friends In Low Places.”
2. Keith Urban’s Intimate Midnight Show
Keith Urban is no stranger to the spotlight. He is in homes across the nation every week as a judge on American Idol, but in the early hours of Friday morning it was as if he took CRS attendees into his own home. Shortly after midnight, Urban took to the historic Ryman stage where a carpet engulfed his music gear. Urban performed his first few tracks alone and it was as if we were in his living room having a conversation. Throughout his hour set, he played most of his previous hits stripped down on acoustic guitar, banjo and piano and even filled the audience in on his writing process. Before he began “Somebody Like You,” he said the track was written with the help of a drum machine and his old six-string banjo. Other highlights included a brief cover of “Jessie’s Girl” into “Long Hot Summer” at the start of his set, a piano version of “Somewhere In My Car” and “Kiss a Girl,” where he invited audience members to join him onstage and take over the mic to have their own moment in the spotlight.
3. Dinner Cruise with Cheap Trick
A dinner cruise isn’t complete without some music, and Sony’s 29th annual CRS boat show did not disappoint. The night included a sit-down meal with live performances from Sony’s roster while sailing down the Cumberland River. While highlights included Trisha Yearwood‘s moving cover of Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou,” Jake Owen‘s powerful new single “What We Ain’t Got” and Brad Paisley‘s impressive cover of Van Halen‘s “Hot for Teacher,” it was the surprise performance by Cheap Trick that had everyone on their feet. The band walked out on the stage as Paisley was covering their song “I Want You To Want Me” and stayed to perform “Surrender,” “Ain’t That a Shame” and “Dream Police.”
4. Dierks Bentley’s ’90s Country Cover Band
When he’s not on tour (and working on how to prank his tourmates), Dierks Bentley likes to play in another band called Hot Country Nights. This band however, is not like anything you’ve ever seen before. Hot Country Knights is Bentley’s ’90s country cover band and he and his friends really get into the roll complete with costumes and ridiculously awesome wigs. On Wednesday (Feb. 25) night Bentley called on friends Miranda Lambert, Lady Antebellum‘s Charles Kelley, Randy Houser, Kip Moore and Brothers Osborne to join him at The Stage on Broadway to make some very special music. Highlights included covers of Alan Jackson’s “Chattahootchee,” Brooks & Dunn’s “My Maria,” Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” and a very disturbing Russian rendition of Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.
5. Lee Brice’s Sold-Out Show at Ryman Auditorium
A year ago, Lee Brice released the video for “I Don’t Dance,” which was shot at an empty Ryman Auditorium. This past week he returned to the famous venue, and there wasn’t a single empty seat—a situation that was not lost on him. “I cannot believe this,” he said between songs. “The last time I stood on this stage I was filming a music video and there was not a soul here. I was dreaming of the day when it would be filled completely, and so here we are.” Throughout his set, Brice demonstrated his prowess and versatility for songwriting and entertaining. The show had peaks and valleys, and while his more tender songs like “I Don’t Dance,” “Love Like Crazy” and “More Than a Memory” silenced the room, tracks like “Drinking Class,” “Parking Lot Party” and “Beer” transformed the Mother Church of Country Music into a tailgate party, showcasing the best of both worlds.