Nashville Notes: Dierks Bentley Expands His Whiskey Bar Chain; Canaan Smith's Dickies Deal; Martina McBride and Kelly Clarkson Team Up

Nashville Power Players 2015 Dierks Bentley
Austin Hargrave

Dierks Bentley photographed on June 24, 2015 at The Land Trust for Tennessee’s Glen Leven Farm. 

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


This year's nominees roll call for the Country Music Association Awards seems to have moved toward a Grammy-style list with support for finalists who didn't necessarily connect with mainstream country radio in the last year. While such CMA categories as vocal duo, video and musical event have often featured non-hit artists and material, the entertainer, album and male and female vocalist categories are all populated with at least one artist who hasn't had a top 10 single during the eligibility period, including Kacey Musgraves, Chris StapletonGarth Brooks and Lee Ann Womack. Granted, three of those acts reached No. 1 or No. 2 on the Top Country Albums chart, and all have had hits as an artist or songwriter in the past. Still, it suggests CMA voters are taking the time to look beyond radio playlists to judge what's working, creatively and/or financially, in the format.

Chris Stapleton Travels Back Up the Charts; Thomas Rhett Scores Again at Country Radio

Dierks Bentley is expanding his Whiskey Row restaurant and bar: A new franchise opens Sept. 17 in Tempe, Ariz., less than 7 miles from the first Row locale in Scottsdale. Established in tandem with Riot Hospitality, the joint offers games, alcohol and food. A third Whiskey Row is reportedly planned for Chicago. Additionally, the RFD-TV music series Larry's Country Diner will come to life as a restaurant and entertainment venue in the Nashville area, with groundbreaking set forSept. 16 on U.S. Highway 70.

Trace Adkins, Colt Ford and Aaron Lewis are set to appear Sept. 16 at Brantley Gilbert's Chattanooga Unite: A Tribute on the River. The concert pays homage to five soldiers who were slain at their base on July 16. The concert wraps a day of activities that includes a parade, performances by Jamey Johnson and Harry Connick Jr., and a memorial event MC'd by Samuel L. Jackson.

Canaan Smith is apparently a good fit with both listeners and brands. The Dickies clothing company has tabbed the newcomer as a spokesman for its denim line. The association comes as he prepares for his first headlining tour, an 11-date club romp that begins Nov. 6 at Coyote Joe's in Charlotte, N.C., and wraps Dec. 11 at the Revolution Music Room in Little Rock, Ark.


Sony Music Nashville made a pair of promotion staff changes, effective Sept. 14. Cliff Blake took over as Columbia Nashville director of Northeast regional promotion after a run in the same post for sister imprint Arista. Luke Jensen joined the Arista team as manager of regional promotion after working as a regional director for Blaster. 

Meanwhile, Bart Allmand joined Blaster on Sept. 14 as Southeast regional director of promotion. He was recently Big Loud Mountain vp record promotion. 

Big Machine Label Group added Mike Craft as senior vp finance. He was previously Sony Music Nashville senior vp finance and operations. 

Warner Music Nashville promoted Stephanie Haymes to manager of A&R from assistant. 

Sony Music Nashville signed singer-songwriter Maren Morris to a recording deal and assigned her to the Columbia roster. She's the first new artist added since Randy Goodman took over as SMN chairman/CEO in July. 

Bluegrass label Mountain Fever signed Junior Sisk & Ramblers to a recording contract. 

Toronto-based ole signed co-publishing deals with three songwriters. They include Gord Bamford, who won three Canadian Country Music Association Awards on Sept. 13, and former CCMA winner George Canyon. In addition, ole inked a co-publishing arrangement with Buddy Owens, a co-writer of Bamford's new single, "Don't Let Her Be Gone."

Los Angeles-based songwriter Joe Ginsberg ("Little Red Wagon") agreed to a publishing deal with BMG Nashville

Sony ATV and Nashville-based Whizbang signed singer-songwriter Daphne Willis to a co-publishing contract. 

The Society of Leaders in Development (SOLID) is soliciting members for 2016 through Oct. 15 here. The organization focuses on young executives in Nashville's entertainment industries. 

The Grammy Foundation is accepting letters of inquiry for its 2016 grant program through Oct. 1. Go here for more info.


KNIX Phoenix picked up three nominations in the Country Music Association Broadcast Awards, which will be acknowledged during the CMA Awards telecast on Nov. 4 on ABC. KNIX is up for major-market radio station of the year, while two shifts -- Barrel Boy @ Night, featuring Eric Gruneisen, and Ben and Matt in the Morning, with Ben Campbell and Matt McAllister -- are finalists for broadcast personality. Outlets with two nominations include WUSY Chattanooga, Tenn.; WKKT Charlotte-Gastonia, N.C.; WPOC Baltimore; WLHKIndianapolis; WMIL Milwaukee; WUBE Cincinnati; WBBS Syracuse, N.Y.; WCTO Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.; WIVK Knoxville, Tenn.; andWCLR Columbia, Mo. National nominees include The Big D and Bubba Show, The Crook and Chase Countdown and The Lia Show, featuring Lia Knight

SiriusXM senior director of country programming John Marks will step down from his position on Sept. 22 to tend to family issues. New York-based senior director of music programming Al Skop will fill the position on an interim basis.

WWGA Talapoosa, Ga., tapped Rhubarb Jones to voicetrack its midday shift, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

WUSW Springfield, Ill., welcomes Brian Pierce and Kellie Michaels to mornings, according to The Springfield State Journal Register. The couple worked most recently at KFDI Wichita, Kan.

WLSC Loris, S.C., flipped to classic country from talk on Sept. 14, according to The Myrtle Beach Sun News.

Alpha Media flipped KDES Palm Springs, Calif., to country and hired Matt Ganssleas KYKX Longport, Texas, PD, reported. Ganssle was most recently PD at KSJJ Bend, Ore.

Also from Detroit fills middays with Jessica Poxson, formerly part ofAmerica's Morning Show.

Debra Mark has left the morning show at KKGO Los Angeles, reported. 

S. Cory Willis took the production director job at Cumulus/Pensacola, Fla., according to The five-station cluster includes country WXBM.


Two big voices ought to create a lot of noise for a worthwhile cause.

Martina McBride and Kelly Clarkson will headline the first stop in a four-city Rock the Room Tour that raises money for Musicians On Call, an organization that brings artists to the bedside of hospitalized patients. The women perform Oct. 21 at City Winery in Nashville, with other events in the works for New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

The Music City concert honors Warner Music Nashville vp/creative director Shane Tarleton, a noted MOC advocate, and the headliners aren't the only musicians on the bill. Special guest Reba McEntireadds a third big voice to the lineup, with additional surprise guests expected.

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


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