CRS Preview: Country Radio's Annual Marathon Includes Stops for Hall of Fame, Humanitarian Award, Panels & More

Carrie Underwood performs onstage during the 2013 CMT Music awards on June 5, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.

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It’s an annual rite of passage for the country radio industry and Nashville music community that tests the stamina (and alcohol tolerance) of its participants every year.

Set for Feb. 19-21 at the downtown Nashville Convention Center and the adjacent Renaissance Hotel, Country Radio Seminar attracts radio personnel, artists, label execs, media and nearly everyone involved in the country music industry for three days of panels, parties, exhibits, showcases, guest speakers and educational presentations.

“The best advice I have ever received about CRS [is] ‘Don’t get killed on the first night . . . it’s a marathon, not a sprint,’” says Don Gosselin, operations manager at WNOE New Orleans. “If you have downtime at CRS, you’re not doing it right.”

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Nate Deaton, GM at KRTY San Jose, Calif., is only half joking when he says the first thing he does when he gets to CRS every year is to “check into my room and make sure it is not next to or across the hall from a [record label hospitality] suite,” something he says “happened one year [and] cost me about five years off my life.” He also avoids rooms “directly overlooking the [Renaissance Hotel] Bridge Bar, because it is remarkably loud.”

And Warner Music Group senior VP of promotion Kevin Herring is most definitely not joking when he says the first thing he does is to “make sure my credit card is working at the Bridge Bar,” where the broadcasters hang out and the labels tend to pay for the free-flowing drinks.

Eli Young Band bassist Jon Jones, a CRS veteran, says, “The Bridge Bar at the Renaissance has always been a good hang in between showcases and interviews. Though, the front lounge of our bus is usually where the party ends up at night’s end.”

The festivities get underway with the Country Radio Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony Tuesday night (Feb. 18). This year, broadcasters Larry Wilson, Mike Brophey, Paul Schadt and Jim Denny will be inducted. Vince Gill will receive the Career Achievement Award, and the President’s Award will go to former Great American Country president Ed Hardy.

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On Wednesday morning, Carrie Underwood will receive the Country Radio Broadcasters’ Artist Humanitarian Award. The annual award recognizes country music artists who have exhibited exceptional humanitarian efforts during their career.

The Grand Ole Opry will sponsor a special show at the Convention Center just for CRS attendees on Wednesday night. Performers will include Underwood, Rascal Flatts, Chris Young, actor Charles Esten from ABC’s “Nashville,” Old Crow Medicine Show, Thompson Square, Love and Theft, Eric Paslay, Brandy Clark and Will Hoge.

Among the other highlights of CRS 2014 are a Wednesday morning panel on perseverance by Little Big Town and a session titled “Muscle Shoals: The Magic in the Music,” which will feature some of the key architects of the famed Muscle Shoals sound, including Rick Hall, Jimmie Johnson, Spooner Oldham and Mac McAnally. The BMI Legends session on Friday afternoon will feature John Oates of Hall & Oates.

One of the many educational sessions on the agenda is a Wednesday keynote by multimedia strategist and Jumpwire Media president Gavin McGarry, who will deliver an address titled “11 Reasons Why Social Media Could Save the Radio Business.”

Other popular events include the Universal Music Group Nashville-sponsored lunch at the Ryman Auditorium, where much of the label group’s roster takes the stage to play one song apiece. This year’s performers are: Gary Allan, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Easton Corbin, Billy Currington, Vince Gill, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Scotty McCreery, Kip Moore, Kacey Musgraves, David Nail, Jon Pardi, Eric Paslay, Darius Rucker and Josh Turner. KRTY’s Deaton calls the Universal lunch “one of the true don’t miss events of CRS.” 

A favorite for CRS executive director Bill Mayne is the Thursday night “Acoustic Alley” performances by some of Nashville’s top songwriters, put together by national radio personality Bob Kingsley, host of “Country Top 40.” Performers this year include Ben Hayslip, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally, Ashley Gorley, Brett James, Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and several others.

The Friday lunch, sponsored by Black River Records, will feature performances by that label’s artists Kellie Pickler, Craig Morgan and newcomer John King.

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It’s nearly non-stop activity during the three-day event, and it concludes Friday night with the annual CRS New Faces Show featuring performances from Brett Eldredge, Tyler Farr, Cassadee Pope, Thomas Rhett and Charlie Worsham. This year’s performers were selected by country radio personnel, who had an opportunity to vote on the lineup.

A New Faces Show after party, the last official event on the agenda, will give attendees a chance to meet the cast of the upcoming TNT series “Private Lives of Nashville Wives,” which premieres later this month.