Nashville Notes: Kelsea Ballerini, FGL Set Australia Debuts; Zac Brown to Make History at Fenway; New Leader at iHeartCountry

Kelsea Ballerini
Suzi Pratt/FilmMagic

Kelsea Ballerini performs at the Watershed Music Festival at The Gorge on August 2, 2015 in George, Washington. 

Here is your weekly roundup of goings on -- artist signings, staffing moves, good news and more -- in the wide world of country music.

Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line and Kelsea Ballerini will make their Australian debuts next spring when they appear at CMC Rocks QLD March 11-13. Presented by the Aussie equivalent of CMT, the festival's American contingent also includes Lee Brice, Tyler Farr, Kip Moore, Cam, Brantley Gilbert, Drake White, The Cadillac Three and Blackjack Billy

Connie Smith marked the 50th anniversary of her Grand Ole Opry induction with a one-hour set on Aug. 8. Marty Stuart hosted the segment, which included Smith's performance of her 1964 debut, "Once a Day," which occupied the No. 1 slot on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart for eight weeks, the longest span ever at the time for a female. Smith joined the Opry on Aug. 21, 1965, 13 months after she debuted. Meanwhile, two actors will make their Opry debuts next week. Robert Duvall and Billy Bob Thornton, who appears as a member of The Boxmasters, are part of the lineup on Aug. 18.

Zac Brown Band sold a reported 105,000 tickets during the weekend as the group became the first act to headline a three-night concert stand at Boston's historic Fenway Park. The last of those shows on Aug. 9 included a surprise appearance by Steven Tyler, who teamed with the band for versions of the Aerosmith classics "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion."

Merle Haggard's headlining date on Aug. 7 at the Ink-N-Iron Festival in Nashville did not go off as planned. Just minutes before Haggard was scheduled to take the stage at the Bicentennial Mall amphitheater, producers announced that while the singer was on his bus nearby, he was unable to perform. It was unclear at that time if it was a health issue or a contractual problem, but Haggard tweeted that the terms of his appearance were not met the prior night and were not expected to be met in advance of the Aug. 7 date either. The crowd was disappointed but dispersed without incident. One group of fans sang an impromptu chorus of "Mama Tried." Another guitar player led a small group in "Okie From Muskogee" and "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink." Promoters pledged to honor day passes from that date throughout the rest of the festival, which had 55 acts scheduled.


Universal Music Group Nashville promoted Stephanie Wright to vp A&R. A 15-year company veteran, she was previously senior director.

Reviver Records added two new members to its promotion staff: West Coast regional Kelly Symone and promotions coordinator Hayley Cowoski. Symone segues from a regional post at Nine North; Cowoski has interned at Warner Music Nashville and WGTY York, Pa.

Kevin L. Wilson joined the Country Music Association as senior vp business affairs. He was previously a self-employed attorney and media consultant.

Nashville-based DigSin and DigMark have partnered with Universal Music Group, with DigSin owner Jay Frank becoming UMG senior vp global streaming marketing. Frank was previously CMT senior vp music strategy.

Tom English ended a run as Warner/Chappell Production Music vp business development on July 31.

Ty Herndon signed a concert booking agreement with Buddy Lee Attractions.

Jennifer Nettles parted company with UMG Nashville.

Former Sony Music Nashville senior vp finance and operations Mike Craft was elected president of the Leadership Music board. New board members include Linda Bloss-Baum, SoundExchange; Joe Galante, Galante Entertainment; Jeff Gregg, Creative Artists Agency; Neal Spielberg, Spielberg Entertainment; and Jimmy Wheeler, Provident Label Group/Sony Music Nashville.

Former Bandit Records co-owner Susan Nadler will publish a book for young adults, Silfa, A Fairy Tale, Sept. 9 via Taylor and Seale Publishing.

The Nashville Songwriters Association International has scheduled Tin Pan South for April 5-9, 2016.

Former manager-booking agent Tandy Rice died Aug. 3 at Nashville's TriStar Centennial Medical Center. During his career, he worked with such artists as Dolly Parton, Tom T. Hall and Jim Ed Brown.


Rod Phillips, who helped develop The Bobby Bones Show, was tapped as the leader of iHeartCountry. The Nashville-based position includes oversight of more than 140 country stations, such as KEEY Minneapolis, WSIX Nashville and KNIX Phoenix. He was most recently iHeartMedia Southeast region senior vp programming.

Alpha Media has agreed to purchase 116 stations in 26 markets from West Palm Beach-based Digity. Among the country stations in the portfolio are KKQQ Brookings, S.D.; KZKX Lincoln, Neb.; and KIAQ Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Westwood One hired Tasha Blasi Pannuzzo as Nash senior vp, sales and marketing, a role that includes advertising sales for Cumulus' multiple syndicated country properties, such as America's Morning Show and Kickin' It With Kix. A former Westwood One employee, the New York-based Blasi was most recently TargetSpot sales director.

WYCD Detroit moves afternoon co-host Chuck Edwards to mornings, where he replaces Dr. Don Carpenter, who concluded his tenure in the role on Aug. 7. The station  will continue to pay Carpenter through March 2017, The Detroit News reported.

Tom Lawler took over afternoon drive at WRNS Greenville-New Bern-Jacksonville, N.C., on Aug. 10, according to He was previously on-air at rock sister WXQR.

Also from WSSL Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., jock Aaron Michael is voice-tracking the night shift for KASE Austin. 

iHeartMedia/San Antonio hired Lance Tidwell as senior vp programming, reported. He had held the same title for iHeartMedia/Tucson (Ariz.).


Craig Morgan is hitting the pavement and hitting the links as he raises money for local causes in Dickson, Tenn.

His second annual Billy's Place 5k takes place Aug. 22 at Montgomery Bell State Park with runners and walkers able to sign up for $30 in advance.

Two months later, Morgan holds his ninth annual charity event on Oct. 17, shifting what used to be a motocross race into a golf tournament and concert. 

Both the Billy's Place 5k and the golf outing will contribute money to his foundation.

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.


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