Insights Await From Nelson, Yoakam, Light

Willie Nelson is inarguably one of the most important figures in the history of country music, but his sphere of influence in the worlds of songwriting, musicianship, interpretation, recording, touring and philanthropy moves Nelson into the realm of cultural icon. Everyone loves and respects Willie Nelson.

So, when Nelson sits down for a rare public Q&A at the Billboard Country Music Summit on June 5, the possibilities for discussion are endless, hence the session's title: "One Hell of a Ride: A Q&A With Willie Nelson." The Q&A, sponsored by BMI, will cover the broad spectrum of Nelson's career and consist of pretty much whatever he wants to talk about.

Nelson's first acclaim came as a songwriter who penned such standards as "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Crazy" and "Night Life" before he launched his own recording career in 1964. By the early '70s, frustrated with the Nashville music business-and sound-Nelson famously took his act back to his home state of Texas, where he changed his music and, ultimately, country music.

A series of brilliant, creatively conceptual albums in "Yesterday's Wine," "Shotgun Willie," "Phases & Stages" and 1975's classic "Red Headed Stranger" helped launch the Outlaw movement in country and cemented Nelson's legend status. Since then, he has continued to cut ground-breaking, commercially viable albums; toured incessantly; and ventured into acting. In 1985, Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and John Conlee launched Farm Aid, which has become the longest-lived benefit concert series ever. And, as an artist who has burned up the road, Nelson has channeled his environmental consciousness with his partnership in Willie Nelson Biodiesel. His numerous accolades include induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993 and Kennedy Center Honors in 1998.

At 79, he remains a remarkably prolific touring and recording artist, releasing album after critically acclaimed album (more than 60 to date) and touring at a breathtaking pace. His current project on Legacy Recordings, "Heroes," arrived in May and finds Nelson in typically outstanding form.

FROM DWIGHT TO LIGHT: Like Willie ­Nelson, Grammy Award-winning artist Dwight Yoakam has transcended the country music genre to become a multi-slash innovator and entrepreneur.

The singer/songwriter/actor/writer/director redefined country music from his debut album in 1986, the neo-traditional honky-tonk epic "Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.," to his work across genres. He's also one of music's "deep thinkers," and summit attendees will have a rare opportunity to hear from Yoakam on June 5 during his keynote Q&A titled "Guitars, Cadillacs and Innovation: A Conversation About the Future With Dwight Yoakam," moderated by Billboard Country Update editor Tom Roland.

Yoakam has sold more than 25 million albums, according to Warner Bros., and has charted 22 top 20 singles. He will release his first studio album in seven years on Warner this fall and recently signed with Paradigm to represent him in all areas, with Brian Hill as responsible agent for personal appearances.

The summit's third featured speaker is Rob Light, partner, managing director and head of the music department at Creative Artists Agency, with offices in Los Angeles, New York, London, Nashville and Beijing. The session is called "Country Music From an Aerial View: A Conversation With Rob Light."

Under Light's leadership, CAA's music department represents many of the world's most popular and talented artists and comedians. CAA is celebrating its 20th year in Music City and its team of agents - led by John Huie and Rod Essig, as well as Scott Clayton, Marc Dennis and Darin Murphy - represents acts including Nelson, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Lady Antebellum, Shania Twain, Alan Jackson, Amy Grant, Shooter Jennings, My Morning Jacket and Kings of Leon.

Respected throughout the industry for his innovative deal structures and ability to foresee changes in the business environment, Light - ranked No. 7 on Billboard's Power 100 list - has led CAA's music department to new heights. He's also a compelling speaker, and the Q&A will offer his take on how country music is outperforming other genres and what country could do better. He'll also present a "big picture" view of the music business and the evolving role of the talent agency, touching on marketing, sponsorships, synchs, artist development, festivals, ticketing, innovation, digital/social, the opportunities and challenges of today and how things might look in 10 years, with examples of acts and tours with strategies that help build or sustain a career.