“I’m thrilled to pieces to be back with the Universal Group,” McEntire said to a packed Ryman Auditorium. “They treated me so fairly, so nicely, so sweetly and so much like family throughout the years. We’ve got a great catalog that we are so proud of … Thank you for continuing to play great country music and I hope we get to put out some more great country music in the future.”
In addition to her signing announcement, McEntire will embark on her first arena tour in nine years next month with new labelmate Caylee Hammack serving as opener. She will also continue her current residency with Brooks & Dunn in Las Vegas.
“At a time when our music, our community and our artists need a bright guiding light, Reba returning to the place where it all started is a great testament to her continuing impact and her powerful musical legacy and we are so proud she’s coming home,” said UMG Nashville president Cindy Mabe in a statement.
“Reba is a music icon who changed culture and paved her own path by making strong empowering musical statements throughout her career through her songs, her videos, her fashion, her shows and her persona. She’s inspired so many generations of fans and there is so much more impact to be made. It is our honor and privilege to get to collaborate and grow the future of Reba’s musical career.”
In addition to McEntire’s performance and label signing announcement, Dierks Bentley’s Hot Country Knights made a surprise appearance kicking off the lunchtime event with a high spirited performance of their debut single “Pick Her Up” complete with plenty of hip-thrusting, high kicks, a keytar, flute and choreographed moves.
Several brand new songs were introduced and performed live for the first time by the UMG roster including Keith Urban’s thoughtful “God Whispered Your Name,” Luke Bryan’s album title track “Born Here, Live Here, Die Here,” Carrie Underwood’s “too personal” and “true story” “Spinning Bottles,” Mickey Guyton’s ballad of female empowerment "What Are You Gonna Tell Her," Brothers Osborne's rollicking “Skeletons,” Kip Moore’s introspective “Janie Blu,” Sam Hunt’s remorseful “2016” and Caylee Hammack’s autobiographical “Small Town Hypocrite.”
Additional highlights included Urban and Underwood’s duet of "The Fighter" and Jon Pardi's heartbreak ballad and next single "Ain't Always the Cowboy," as well as performances by newcomers Adam Hambrick, Brandon Lay, Kylie Morgan, Parker McCollum and Travis Denning.