From left: Carson James, Leigh Adams, Denny Brown, Jason Aldean, Jon Loba, and Rick Shedd pose with Aldeans double platinum plaque at the Broken Bow/Stoney Creek Records 2nd annual CMA pre-party at the Hard Rock Cafe in Nashville. (Photo by Frederick Breedon IV/Getty Images)
Revelers at the Broken Bow/Stoney Creek Records second annual pre-CMA Party got a pleasant surprise when Randy Houser took the stage at Nashville's Hard Rock Café as the newest member of the roster.
"The sense of family that Benny and the entire label bring to the table is something that I really needed in my life," Houser told Billboard.biz of label owner Benny Brown and staff. "A lot of times in this music business we get wiped away in just business and this really feels like family to me. That sense of family is something that's really important to me right now and they put off that vibe. [Thompson Square's] Keifer and Shawna told me 'If that's what you're looking for, then this is where you want to be.'"
Previously signed to Universal South, where he scored a top ten hit with "Boots On," Houser is just getting started on new album. "I've been writing it and we're going to start recording," he says. "There are a few candidates [for producer]. I'm feeling people out to see who I feel most comfortable with, but that's still something we have to figure out."
In addition to Houser, the event featured performances by newcomer Dustin Lynch, James Wesley and husband/wife duo Thompson Square. Jason Aldean was on hand to receive a double platinum plaque for his "My Kinda Party" album. "A few weeks ago, Jason went around Nashville handing out these double platinum plaques. Guess who hasn't gotten one yet?" Brown told the crowd as he welcomed Aldean to the stage. "He kept saying, 'When do I get mine?' I said, 'When we have that platinum party,' so I guess this will have to be called our double platinum party."
Aldean thanked Brown, the Broken Bow staff and radio. "Let's do it again on the next record, which we just started recording," he said.
Off stage, Aldean shared his thoughts on the CMAs with Billboard.biz, acknowledging the show has been an important part of his career trajectory. "The CMAs have had a huge impact," he says. "You have millions of people watching the show and you have a chance to go out and make a ton of fans that night. One performance can do that. Last year our performance with Kelly [Clarkson on "Don't You Wanna Stay"] was the first standing ovation I've ever gotten from the industry crowd in my career. It just goes to show you the show can break a career wide open if it's done right. You just never know. Everybody is always trying to have the best performance of the night and you never know where its gonna come from. That's part of the beauty of it."
Earlier in the day, Aldean performed a free concert in downtown Nashville to promote the AMC television series "Hell on Wheels."
How does he deal with the rigorous demands of his CMA Week schedule? "I try to get as much sleep as I can get," he says. "It's fun. A lot of times you just start to run on adrenaline, but I try to get a lot of sleep and that's my key."
During the evening, Brown and his wife Carolyn, were presented a special plaque celebrating the label's success with 2005's Most Played Song of the Year, Craig Morgan's "That's Why I Love About Sunday;" Aldean's 2009 hit "She's Country" and Thompson Square's No. 1 "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not."
The evening's performances got underway with a three-song set by Lynch. "Getting to share the stage with Thompson Square, Jason Aldean, James Wesley and Randy Houser tonight is awesome," said Lynch who has been out on a radio tour, setting up his debut single "Cowboys and Angels," which he co-wrote with Tim Nichols.
"[Senior VP] John Loba is the guy who found me and brought me in," Lynch says of inking a deal with Broken Bow. "The energy and the vibe of what they do as a label and the success they are having with Jason is unmatchable. It's home. I feel like they are my family."
The Broken Bow/ Stoney Creek Records fete served as a nice warm up for CMA's big night, attracting a diverse crowd that included Fitzgerald Hartley Management's Nick Hartley, Billboard's Silvio Pietroluongo, singer/songwriter (and Dolly's sister) Stella Parton, Spalding Entertainment's Chris Parr, ASCAP creative manager Robert Filhart, songwriter Anthony Smith, fresh from Monday's night SESAC Song of the Year win for penning the Chris Young hit "Tomorrow," and RED Distribution's senior VP product development Alan Becker and RED president Bob Morelli.
"I never thought we'd be in the mainstream country music business, being on the indie side of things," Becker told Billboard.biz. "We're very grateful to be working with Broken Bow Records."
RED began distributing Broken Bow in 2003 before the label's initial success with Craig Morgan. "When we met Benny Brown, the owner, we saw in him the fierce determination we saw in a lot of independent labels that have been very successful with us and we connected on that level," says Becker. "It was that passion he had that turned us on."
"We planned it all the way," Brown told Billboard.biz of the company's success. Looking forward to tonight's CMA Awards, Brown is bullish on Aldean's chances to collect a prize or two. "There's no one more deserving than Jason to get male vocalist and I think our chances are real good to get vocal performance of the year [for the Aldean/Kelly Clarkson duet "Don't You Wanna Stay"]. And there's no one more deserving for entertainer of the year too."
The evening concluded with a high-energy set from Thompson Square, who received a plaque celebrating "Are You Gonna Kiss Me" as the most played song of 2011. "We feel very blessed and very humbled by the whole process," Keifer Thompson told Billboard.biz after their performance. "We're happy to be in the game and to be recognized by our peers but more than anything else, we're happy that we're able to do this together."
"For the past year, at least once a day, we've looked at each other and said, 'Can you believe this is really happening?'" Shawna adds.
After the Hard Rock bash wound down, Thompson Square planned to make another stop at The Wheel, one of the honky tonks on Nashville's famed Broadway. "We bartended there two years ago for about six months or so," says Keifer. "We love that place. They are really nice people. They gave us a job when no one else would. We like to be loyal to people who are loyal to us."
Shawna and Keifer Thompson of Thompson Square receive a plaque for most played song of 2011, "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not." (Photo by Frederick Breedon IV/Getty Images)
(L-R) Rick Shedd, Benny Brown, Randy Houser, Jon Loba, Nick Hartley, and April Rider pose together after announcing Randy Houser's signing with Broken Bow/Stoney Creek Records at the Broken Bow/Stoney Creek Records 2nd annual CMA pre-party in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon IV/Getty Images)
From left: Broken Bow/Stoney Creek Records newest signing Randy Houser performing. (Frederick Breedon IV/Getty Images)
Carolyn Brown and Benny Brown at the Broken Bow/Stoney Creek Records 2nd annual CMA pre-party at the Hard Rock Cafe Nashville (Photo: Beth Gwinn/FilmMagic)