Billboard's 2017 Country Power Players List Revealed: Music City's Most Influential
The 100 leaders, achievers and influencers on Billboard’s third annual Nashville Country Power Players list drove another solid year for the country music industry.
The Georgetown grad is midway through her fourth year as CEO of the CMA, the most muscular of any trade organization devoted to a single genre. Each June, its music festival draws hundreds of thousands of fans, raising millions of dollars for its charitable work in music education. The annual TV viewership of fall's CMA Awards, aired on ABC since 2006, is second only to the Grammys among music awards telecasts; even up against game seven of the 2016 World Series, the show held its own in ratings, retaining 93 percent of its audience from 2015. Through Country Music Hall of Fame inductions held every fall, the organization bestows permanent spots in the industry’s official historical narrative.
Trahern took the reins of the 59-year-old institution, with its 7,800 members, 76 person board and staff of 50, at an unpredictable moment. Old business models are rapidly losing currency. Crossing over to pop is no longer just a way to add to a country artist's established fan base -- plenty of millennial country acts are virtually pop natives. There are glaring gender disparities on the country charts, with male stars getting the lion’s share of the airplay. With the format’s future in mind, Trahern responds to the present tumult with unflappable diplomacy.
"There’s always that dichotomy of traditional country and pop country," she says after settling into a plush armchair in a small conference room, reading glasses perched atop her head. "I get asked about it a lot, and I always call it 'the big tent.' Under how we define country, I think there’s room for all of us."
President/CEO/Founder, Big Machine Label Group
In the (nearly) three years since his marquee artist Taylor Swift released her smash album 1989, Borchetta says that the label group has been "focused on the next wave," grooming rising acts Brett Young and Thomas Rhett, whose "Craving You" (featuring Maren Morris) topped Billboard's Country Airplay chart and generated 34.2 million on-demand streams. In other promising news, reports persist that Swift's Billboard Hot 100 hit with Zayn Malik, "I Don't Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)," which sold over 1 million downloads, won't be the only new music she releases this year.
Biggest Issue Facing Country: "The streaming genie's out of the bottle, so we have no choice now but to scale it with premium services. The goal is for everyone to be on a premium service."
DAVE COBB, 43
Founder, Low Country Sound
Working with Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, the producer and now label head -- his Elektra Records imprint, Low Country Sound, will release sophomore LPs by his cousin Brent Cobb and Anderson East in early 2018 -- has overseen a steady stream of standouts that meld country, rock and 1970s singer-songwriter fare. That includes the best-selling country LP of 2017 so far, Stapleton's From A Room: Vol. 1. While others precision-engineer mashups, Cobb favors spontaneity. "I hate listening to tons of demos before I make a record," he says.
MIKE CURB, 72
Founder/Chairman, Curb Records; Owner/Chairman, Word Entertainment
"I never plan to retire," says the founder of 54-year-old Curb Records, the industry's longest-running independent label still run by its original owner. When not working with Curb artists Dylan Scott, Lee Brice and For King & Country, Curb also restores faded buildings on Music Row, funds music business programs at numerous colleges and still scouts for new talent in a variety of genres. "Nobody ever told me that we couldn't do rock'n'roll in Nashville," he says.
MIKE DUNGAN, 63
Chairman/Ceo, Universal Music Group Nashville
Under Dungan, UMGN has retained its crown as country's market-share leader -- 27.6 percent for the first half of 2017 -- and seen one of its artists top the Hot Country Songs chart every week during the same period. Chris Stapleton's Traveller ranked as the top-selling country album of 2016, and Capitol Nashville lured Carrie Underwood away from Sony. With an eye toward the future, Dungan says he's excited about the evolution of Jon Pardi, who "takes country music by the throat," and guiding 2011 American Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina to her first No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart.
Best Of Nashville: "The Time Jumpers, [who perform] every Monday night at 3rd and Lindsley."
RANDY GOODMAN, 61
Chairman/CEO, Sony Music Nashville
Kane Brown's and Luke Combs' No. 1 achievements on Top Country Albums -- along with the ongoing success of Maren Morris, Old Dominion and Cam -- cemented Sony Music Nashville's reputation as a hothouse for new talent under Goodman's team. "We're doing what we needed to do," says Goodman of the label group, which captured a 19.7 percent market share in the first half of 2017. SMN also had hits from Kenny Chesney and the recently re-signed Miranda Lambert, whose double album, The Weight of These Wings, was certified platinum in July. New signees Tim McGraw and Faith Hill should lessen the sting of Carrie Underwood's defection to Capitol when the couple releases a duets LP in the fall.
JOHN ESPOSITO, 61
Chairman/CEO, Warner Music Nashville
Since "Espo," as he’s known in the business, took over Warner Music Nashville in 2009, the division’s market share for country albums plus track equivalent albums has quadrupled to almost 7.6 percent. In the first seven months of 2017, WMN artists have topped the Country Airplay chart four times, and RaeLynn, a former contestant on season two of The Voice, had her first album for Warner Bros. Nashville, Wildhorse, debut at No. 1 on Top Country Albums. Dan + Shay, Brett Eldredge and Cole Swindell have put points on the board as well.
Executive vp, BBR Music Group Nashville
When BMG purchased BBR Music Group at the beginning of 2017, founder Benny Brown became a consultant, and Loba took charge of the label group that Jason Aldean and Trace Adkins call home. Bolstered by the German giant's "world-class resources," Loba says BBRMG is poised to become "a destination for major artists." Meanwhile, its current roster kept racking up wins: Dustin Lynch scored his fifth Country Airplay No. 1 in February with "Seein' Red" and is slated to drop a new studio album in the fall. In April, Aldean picked up his second Entertainer of the Year award at the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards.
Non-Industry Leader He Admires: "Mark Cuban. I agree with him 95 percent of the time on Shark Tank."
DAVID MACIAS, 52
President, Thirty Tigers
In October 2016, Macias announced a strategic alliance with Sony Music Entertainment and Triple 8 Management called Triple Tigers Records, which is dedicated to mainstream country. Its first artist, Russell Dickerson, rose to No. 3 on the Country Digital Song Sales chart in July. Thirty Tigers acts Jason Isbell and Aaron Watson are also -having a strong 2017. Isbell's critically heralded The Nashville Sound with his band the 400 Unit and Watson's Vaquero respectively debuted at No. 1 and No. 2 on the Top Country Albums chart. "We try to attract and serve artists that are true to their internal voices," says Macias.
SHANE MCANALLY, 42
CEO, Smack; co-president, Monument Records
The streak of blockbusters that made McAnally one of Billboard's top-ranked country songwriters in 2015 continues with the unstoppable groove of Sam Hunt's "Body Like a Back Road," which already has spent 24 weeks atop the Hot Country Songs chart and is the year's biggest country single to date, with 1.3 million downloads. In January, SMACK -- the 5-year-old publishing, management and production company McAnally runs with his husband, Michael McAnally Baum -- bought the Jim Owens Building on Music Row for $1.89 million (it's due to open in October). Also in January, McAnally and manager Jason Owen announced the relaunch of Monument Records with Sony, once home to Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and Owen's client Little Big Town. McAnally says Monument will be a place for hard-to-pigeonhole acts like the pop-leaning Walker Hayes, the soulful Caitlyn Smith and artists where a major label would say, 'We don't know where this fits.'"
Song Stuck In His Head: "Charlie Puth's 'Attention.'"
CINDY MABE, 44
President, Universal Music Group Nashville
"It was the most gratifying moment of the past year," says Mabe of her reaction to UMG Nashville signing Carrie Underwood to Capitol Records Nashville in late March -- a surprise deal following the country superstar's decision not to renew with Sony Nashville after a fruitful 12-year run that culminated in the release of her 2015 album, Storyteller. (The LP has sold over 1 million albums and yielded four top 10 singles on the Country Airplay chart.) One reason for Underwood's move, according to industry sources: the opportunity to work again with Mabe, who was at Sony Nashville when the 2005 American Idol winner released her first album, Some Hearts, and was involved in rolling out the record, which went on to sell 7.5 million copies. With Underwood back on the same team, Mabe says, "We are working with Carrie on a lot of goals, including making her a global star."
KEN ROBOLD, 52
Executive vp/COO, Sony Music Nashville
STEVE HODGES, 52
Executive vp promotion and artist development, Sony Music Nashville
When Robold, a lifelong New Yorker, relocated to Nashville in 1994 -- knowing no one,' he says -- he was skeptical that it would be a permanent move. Twenty-three years later, he is one of the primary strategic forces behind a revitalized Sony Nashville, the label-group home of breakthrough artists Maren Morris, Luke Combs, Old Dominion, Kane Brown and a resurgent Miranda Lambert. "Bringing Maren in really put the town on notice [that] Sony’s back and is going to be a player," says Robold. "And Luke Combs is on fire." Combs’ single "Hurricane" and album This One’s for You have topped the Country Airplay and Top Country Albums charts, respectively. "It’s such a deep record," adds Robold.
Chief Marketing Officer, Warner Music Nashville
Blake Shelton, who scored his 24th No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart in July with "Every Time I Hear That Song," remains Warner Nashville's alpha dog, but Strickland points to successes with relative newcomers as indicators of WMN's investment in career-building and its growth potential. Dan + Shay have moved 756,000 consumption album units and racked up their third Country Airplay No. 1, "How Not To," in July, and William Michael Morgan's 2016 release, Vinyl, hit No. 5 on Top Country Albums. And Brett Eldredge, whose songs have generated 535 million on-demand streams, "is on his way to becoming a superstar," says Strickland, adding, "We don't sign artists for the short term. It's about doing the legwork needed to bring them to the marketplace."
Best Of Nashville: "Mayor Megan Barry has an exciting vision for Nashville's future, although [the development] makes it challenging for those of us that live here."
JIMMY HARNEN, 54
President, BMLG Records; executive vp, Big Machine Label Group
Harnen's development and positioning of Florida Georgia Line keeps paying dividends. The duo hit No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart for the 11th time in July with "God, Your Mama, and Me," which, along with BMLG rookie Brett Young's No. 1 Country Airplay single, "In Case You Didn't Know," brought BMLG Records' total of chart-topping singles to 23. "We're looking forward to our 24th," says Harnen, who credits CEO Scott Borchetta with giving the staff freedom to think outside the box. "He says, 'You start at crazy and work backward,' " says Harnen. "That allows us to do what we do."
Non-industry Leader He Admires: "Warren Buffett. One of my favorite quotes of his: 'Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble.' "
ROYCE RISSER, 47
Senior vp promotion, Universal Music Group Nashville
After 26 years at Universal, Risser still loves rolling up his sleeves and working a single up the charts. In April, his team celebrated 2011 American Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina's first Country Airplay No. 1, "Road Less Traveled," her sixth single in six years. "The Mercury team kept churning and fighting for it," says Risser. "It was a huge turnaround, for her and for us." And under Risser, Capitol Nashville spent almost a year nudging Darius Rucker's "If I Told You" to the top of Country Airplay in June. "We'd never really led with a ballad for Darius, but it was a meaningful record for him, and we felt we should try something we had never done before," says Risser.
Song Stuck In His Head: "Mike Dungan cracks up at my love of musical theater, but I was completely obsessed with Hamilton all last year."
KRISTEN WILLIAMS, 37
Senior vp radio and streaming, Warner Music Nashville
After 13 years of rising through the ranks at Warner Music Nashville, Williams was promoted to her current position of overseeing three promotion teams that were tasked with working the on-demand -streaming services in addition to radio. "Radio is by far the most important platform when launching an artist," says Williams. "But it really helps to have a story to give to [broadcasters], whether it be streams at Spotify, success at SiriusXM or any other important metric." Williams, who oversees a roster that includes Blake Shelton and Brandy Clark, cites the No. 1 debut of RaeLynn's first album, Wildhorse, on the Top Country Albums chart in April as one of her division's top achievements of the past year, as well as motivation for the future. "We've made clear strides in breaking female acts," she says, "but there are still challenges."
NARVEL BLACKSTOCK, 60
CEO, Starstruck Entertainment
BRANDON BLACKSTOCK, 40
Manager, Starstruck Entertainment
Blake Shelton, Starstruck's client of 11 years, remains one of country music's top earners -- 10.2 million albums and 30 million song downloads sold, and 1.7 billion on-demand streams generated -- and then there's his lucrative gig as a judge on NBC's The Voice. Shelton's 2016 release, If I'm Honest, became his fifth No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart and spawned three Country Airplay chart-toppers. The most recent, "Every Time I Hear That Song," counts as Shelton's 24th No. 1 radio hit. The father-and-son management team also scored Brandon's wife of three and a half years, original American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, a coaching spot on season 14 of The Voice and landed Maggie Rose and trio Post Monroe on CMT's 2017 Next Women of Country Tour.
GARY BORMAN, 64
Founder/CEO, Borman Entertainment
Borman started his career steering jazz acts until, he says, he was stereotyped as a "jazz manager" -- at which point he began working with a diverse roster of artists that included The Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees, Faith Hill and Garbage. Then, 16 years ago, he took on Keith Urban and has stuck with country ever since. "I love the culture and the work ethic -- and I love the focus on songs," says Borman, who also reps Alison Krauss. The success ain't bad either: Since Urban's platinum-certified Ripcord was released in 2016, the Aussie star has sold 700,000 concert tickets.
CORAN CAPSHAW, 59
Founder, Red Light Management
BRAD BELANGER, 42
Manager, RLM; owner, Homestead Management
MARY HILLIARD HARRINGTON, 40
TOM LORD, 41
Head of marketing, RLM
DANIEL MILLER, 43
JANET WEIR, 43
President, 42 ENT; manager, RLM
As the largest indie artist-management firm in the world, Red Light has a country roster that is second to none and includes stadium, arena and amphitheater headliners Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum and Chris Stapleton, whom Capshaw personally manages. "There's no other genre that has such a constant level of touring and fan desire to see artists live," says Capshaw. One of Red Light's key Nashville strategies involves -partnering with managers of promising country stars, including Kerri Edwards (Bryan) and Belanger (Hunt). Says Belanger: "We sign a short-term lease where I run my own company, Coran gets a section of my profits, and I get to use all of his shared services -- digital, marketing, tour promotion and Coran himself." It's a strategy that has paid off: In 2016, Bryan's tour alone grossed $70.6 million.
Best of Nashville: Belanger: "I'm in love with the new First Tennessee Park [home of the Nashville Sounds]. It's the bougiest baseball stadium you've ever seen."
VIRGINIA DAVIS, 37
Artist manager/managing partner, G-Major Management
Davis signed Thomas Rhett when he was a 20-year-old college student. Seven years later, the pair (with Rhett's father and Roc Nation) launched Home Team Publishing. Rhett, who has sold 9.4 million digital songs and generated 1.2 billion on-demand streams, won male vocalist of the year at the ACM Awards, and "Craving You" (featuring Maren Morris) became his eighth No. 1 on Country Airplay. Now, Davis is gearing up for the fall release of Rhett's third LP, for which the artist had plenty of material. "He's constantly writing," says Davis.
Biggest Issue Facing Country: "There's a lot of traffic and saturation in the marketplace. An act really has to be strategic about defining touring strategy and doing so very early."
BOB DOYLE, 69
Owner/president; Major Bob Music, Bob Doyle & Associates
Ever since Garth Brooks played two sold-out dates at New York's Yankee Stadium in July 2016, the country superstar has been hitting it out of the park with Doyle, his manager of almost 30 years, by his side. Brooks took home a record fifth Entertainer of the Year award at the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards last November, and his three-year North American tour has sold nearly 6 -million tickets. "Forty percent of the audience is under 34," says Doyle, who also helped Brooks launch his own SiriusXM channel and strike an exclusive streaming deal with Amazon Music.
Favorite Artist Of Any Genre: "J.S. Bach. Brilliant composer."
Owner, The HQ
Edelblute helped steer sole client Carrie Underwood into a newsmaking worldwide deal with Universal Music Group's Capitol Records Nashville after five records with Sony. Underwood was the top-earning female country artist of 2016, taking home $19.9 million, in large part thanks to her "biggest [tour] to date," says Edelblute, which traveled to nine countries and played to nearly 1.2 million fans.
Best of Nashville: "Nashville Predators hockey." (The NHL Stanley Cup finalists are captained by Underwood's husband, Mike Fisher.)
Founder/president, KP Entertainment
As the manager of Luke Bryan, the eighth-highest-earning artist of 2016 at $27.3 million, Edwards is arguably one of the highest-paid women in the music industry. And to think she almost turned down the job. After working as a creative director for Bryan's publisher, the "Drunk on You" singer asked Edwards to manage him. "I just looked at him and said, 'No, no, no,' " she says with a laugh. She now guides his career in partnership with Red Light Management, and has helped Bryan grow into a crossover star who performed the national anthem in front of 111 million TV viewers at the 2017 Super Bowl. Her roster also includes Cole Swindell and Jon Langston.
Biggest Issue Facing Country: "Streaming rights and payments. Songwriter advocate that I am, I still think there's a long way to go to figure out what is fair for them."
LARRY FITZGERALD, 79
President, The Fitzgerald Hartley Co.
BILL SIMMONS, 64
Partner, The Fitzgerald Hartley Co.
The 40-year-old management company has engineered a flurry of multimedia deals for its roster during the past year. Simmons helped negotiate a Netflix comedy special for Brad Paisley after his client got rave reviews as host of the CMA Awards, and with Fender, for a Paisley Signature Series Telecaster guitar. Fitzgerald oversaw Vince Gill joining the Eagles for the Classic East/West concerts, a third renewal for CMT's I Love Kellie Pickler and Pickler teaming with Faith Hill on a new daytime talk show starting in the fall. Chris Young's breakout year -- "Sober Saturday Night" became his eighth No. 1 Country Airplay single in March -- was "pretty great, too," says Fitzgerald.
FLETCHER FOSTER, 53
President/CEO, Iconic Entertainment
Foster has stood by the side of client Kelsea Ballerini -- 2.3 million digital songs sold and counting -- for what has been a whirlwind, career-boosting year: co-hosting the ABC series Greatest Hits, becoming the first female country artist since Wynonna Judd to have her first three singles top the Country Airplay chart and receiving a best new artist Grammy nod. "It added credibility," says Foster of the nomination. He's now gearing up for the fall release of Ballerini's sophomore album while also managing Levi Hummon and Joel Crouse.
Favorite Artist Of Any Genre: "I'm a huge Annie Lennox/Eurythmics fan."
CLINT HIGHAM, 45
President/partner, Morris Higham Management
Marquee client Kenny Chesney was 2016's ninth-highest-grossing live act in North America, with $69.9 million in ticket sales. He also kept Higham busy with "Setting the World on Fire," his Grammy-nominated duet with Pink, which hit No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100. "It brought him some new fans," says Higham, who also notes the growth of client Old Dominion: The group scored its second No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart, "Song for Another Time," in late 2016, and has advanced to selling out theaters.
Act He'd Like To See Go Country: "Ed Sheeran. It's all about songwriting and authenticity. He could do it well."
TK KIMBRELL, 61
Founder/president, TKO Artist Management
Kimbrell has represented far bigger artists, particularly longtime client Toby Keith, but he hasn't been as emotional about an album release as he was when Glen Campbell's final album, Adios, debuted at No. 40 on the Billboard 200 in July. The country legend recorded the song a year after announcing his Alzheimer's disease diagnosis, singing and strumming from muscle memory. "He honestly didn't know where he was a lot of the time," says Kimbrell. "But music had not left him."
MARION KRAFT, 52
CEO, Shopkeeper Management
Kraft says she took pride in working with Miranda Lambert to release "a double album in a world of singles." She's justified. The Weight of These Wings debuted at No. 1 on Top Country Albums in December, then topped the chart again in April after winning album of the year at the ACM Awards and was certified platinum by the RIAA in July. Kraft, who assists in guiding Lambert's nonprofit MuttNation Foundation, also serves on the CMA board.
Favorite Artist of Any Genre: "ABBA! I grew up in Germany, and when I was a teenager, ABBA fever was in full bloom. They're the best songs to sing along to and feel good."
KEN LEVITAN, 60
Founder/co-president, Vector Management
Seventeen years after Levitan brought Kings of Leon to Music Row, the act achieved a number of firsts with seventh LP Walls. The 2016 set marked the first time the members wrote a title track, the first time they collaborated on a social media rollout and, thanks to Levitan's guidance, the first time they topped the Billboard 200, earning 77,000 album equivalent units in the first week of release. The best perk of his successes with Kings of Leon, Emmylou Harris, Prophets of Rage and Trisha Yearwood? "The travel," says the Renaissance manager. "There's Florence [Italy], Paris and London, where Kings of Leon sold out Hyde Park."
MATT MAHER, 47
Partner/head of Nashville office, ROAR
"People often ask us who does what," says Maher, "but Zac Brown Band is a massive enterprise, and we share the roles." For Maher and fellow ROAR partners Bernie Cahill, Will Ward and Greg Suess, this includes the rollout of the group's No. 1 on Top Country Albums, Welcome Home (288,000 equivalent album units); $31.9 million in concert box-office grosses; a top-selling new wine, Z. Alexander Brown; and ongoing construction/fundraising for Brown's nonprofit Camp Southern Ground.
JASON OWEN, 41
President/CEO, Sandbox Entertainment; co-president, Monument Records
Owen (along with partner Shane McAnally) added "label head" to his résumé with the revival of Sony Music's Monument Records imprint in January. Sandbox client Faith Hill and husband Tim McGraw also signed to Sony Music Entertainment labels and, in April, returned to the road to reprise their successful 2006 Soul2Soul World Tour. Little Big Town launched Ryman Auditorium's first residency, and, in 2018, Kacey Musgraves will open for Harry Styles on his arena tour.
You Can't Sleep -- What Apps Do You Check? "Zillow and Architectural Digest. I'm a house whore."
JOHN PEETS, 50
Founder, Q Prime South
Peets counsels his artists -- which include Eric Church, Brothers Osborne and The Black Keys -- to "carve out a piece of land that's uniquely their own." Church, for instance, "is not going to be on social media telling you what he had for dinner." Instead, he "superserves his fans," says Peets, and in 2016 gave away his Mr. Misunderstood LP to fan club members. The approach paid dividends: His 2017 Holdin' My Own Tour sold out 61 dates and set attendance records. Peets, who lives in Brentwood, also cites Brothers Osborne's "slow and steady" breakthrough, which included Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music vocal duo of the year wins in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
CLARENCE SPALDING, 60
Spalding is half-kidding when he says, "I have the tightest grip in Nashville -- I grab hold of something that's successful and hang on." His roster includes two-time hard-touring Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year winner Jason Aldean, who, Billboard estimates, took home $14.3 million in 2016, and his clients Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire extended their residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas -- which has drawn over 130,000 fans -- a third time, through the end of 2017. New clients include Seth Alley and Rachel Wammack.
Best of Nashville: "Bridgestone Arena. It is getting a record number of shows from artists who would historically bypass the city."
STEVE BUCHANAN, 60
President, Opry Entertainment
SALLY WILLIAMS, 45
Senior vp programming and artist relations, Opry Entertainment; GM, Grand Ole Opry
Williams replaced Pete Fisher when he left to helm the Academy of Country Music, adding a programming and artist relations division (which she -spearheads) in March. The Ryman is flourishing with the help of Little Big Town's residency, and a partnership with Blake Shelton will open two clubs, Ole Red Nashville and, in the country star's Oklahoma hometown, Ole Red Tishomingo. Williams credits Buchanan, who received the CMA's Irving Waugh Award in 2016 -- with keeping attendance and prestige high. "He epitomizes one of my favorite things about Nashville," she says. "The philosophy that rising tides raise all boats."
DAVID KELLS, 41
Senior vp booking, Bridgestone Arena/Nashville Predators
Thanks in large part to Kells' booking (and an assist from NHL Stanley Cup finalists The Predators), the Bridgestone has become a hot destination in a town where, he says, industry players and talent "all see each other at the grocery store." Eric Church broke the single-night Bridgestone attendance record twice at consecutive shows in late May (18,996 and 19,020 fans, respectively), and the Country Music Association chose the arena to host its 50th-annual awards ceremony.
Time-Travel Music Fantasy: "Jason & The Scorchers shutting down West End for a free concert in 1985."
LOUIS MESSINA, 70
CEO, Messina Touring Group
ALI HARNELL, 49
Senior vp, AEG Presents
"I'm proud of how we've created a way for George [Strait] to continue playing for his fans without having to be on a tour bus relentlessly," says Messina of Strait's 10 sold-out gigs (and counting) at Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill grossed $30 million from the first 30 dates of their Messina-managed Soul2Soul Tour, and Eric Church has played to over 900,000 fans on his Holdin' My Own Tour. Harnell, meanwhile, has focused on expanding country music's appeal in Europe with the C2C Country to Country festival, which completed its fifth year at London's O2 Arena in March. "We've developed a footprint for American country artists to go international."
Nonindustry Leader She Admires: Harnell: "Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. She built an extraordinary company based off the simplest idea."
BRIAN O'CONNELL, 52
President, country music; Live Nation
BRIAN TRAEGER, 36
President, Tennessee; Live Nation
"There aren't a lot of acts on the planet that can sell 10,000 tickets across the board. In country, we have built a loyal enough fan base that'll go to multiple shows," says O'Connell, or "BOC," as he's known in the -business. Live Nation's country division regularly works with the genre's top road warriors, including Luke Bryan, the No. 1 live country act of 2016 who took home $23.3 million from 1.1 million tickets sold. Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line earned $11.7 million and $10.5 million, respectively, in 2016 and remain, with Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert, major draws. Traeger, for his part, has helped Nashville shed its second--market status by bringing Chris Stapleton, Guns N' Roses and Beyoncé to town.
You Can't Sleep -- What Do You Check Online? O'Connell: "Chicago Cubs, Blackhawks and Notre Dame sites."
ROB BECKHAM, 51
Co-head, Nashville division; William Morris Endeavor
Co-head, Nashville division; WME
Beckham and Oswald have spent 2017 focusing on continued international expansion, booking 350 country shows outside of the United States. From WME's new offices in The Gulch, the duo also launched a Nashville-centric branding team and digital initiative and expanded its artist-development program. "Since launching, 22 of our developing artists have gotten record deals," says Beckham. Among them: Travis Denning, Adam Craig, Ben Gallaher and Morgan Wallen. In the spring, WME curated the two-day Bash at the Beach in Las Vegas to benefit the ACM's philanthropic arm, Lifting Lives. "We gave them a check for $100,000. It was one of the proudest moments of my career," says Beckham of the event, which included performances by Florida Georgia Line and new signee Jake Owen.
Act He'd Like To See Go Country: Oswald: "Eagles, especially since Vince Gill is an Eagle now."
SCOTT CLAYTON, 52 // MARC DENNIS, 47 // ROD ESSIG, 68 // JOHN HUIE, 61 // DARIN MURPHY, 51
Co-heads, Creative Artists Agency Nashville
CAA's Nashville quintet has booked many of the most successful country tours of the year, including Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's 65-city Soul2Soul World Tour; Keith Urban's Ripcord Tour, which has played over 70 shows in four countries; and the Zac Brown Band, which grossed $31.9 million in 2016 and became the first act to sell out seven consecutive concerts at Boston's Fenway Park over three years. The Dixie Chicks wrapped their first tour in a decade, MMXVII, after selling over 1 million tickets and grossing $50 million-plus across more than 80 dates. And that's just a small cross-section of CAA's Nashville roster, which includes recent breakout artists Maren Morris, Sam Hunt and Kacey Musgraves, and newly signed acts Brett Eldredge and The Band Perry.
GREG JANESE, 58 // CURT MOTLEY, 52
Nashville Music Leadership Team, United Talent Agency
In May, Motley helped client Toby Keith secure the first Western concert in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, coinciding with President Donald Trump's visit there and the relaxation of a strict law that forbid the public performance of music in the Saudi capital. "If you're ever going to affect change, you can't sit on the sidelines," says Motley of the show, which was organized by Middle East Broadcasting Center and had Keith performing for an all-male audience. Motley and Janese are relatively new to UTA, with Motley making the jump from Paradigm in March 2016 and Janese following a year later. Since arriving, Janese has helped develop UTA's corporate bookings and special events team, a growing revenue stream for artists. "An artist can play a corporate event in a major market and still return and play that market [for the paying public]," says Janese.
Favorite Artist Of Any Genre: Janese: "Jimmy Buffett. He turned his creative talent into a lifestyle brand. He was able to create an empire without sacrificing who he is as an artist."
STEVE LASSITER, 59
Partner/senior vp/head of concerts, APA Nashville
It's a sign of country's exportability that the head of APA's international music division just relocated to Nashville, where the agency recently doubled its footprint in a new, 15,000-square-foot penthouse office. "About 60 percent of our roster is classic country," says Lassiter, including Dolly Parton, Crystal Gayle and Travis Tritt. Other clients include surprises like Brian Wilson and Jeff Bridges. Lassiter adds that his division has been up every year for 20 years, "some years only by 3 percent, but others as much as 20."
Act He'd Like To See Go Country: "None. Let them stay in their own lane."
JONATHAN LEVINE, 55
Head, Nashville Division; Paradigm Talent Agency
JOE ATAMIAN, 33
Agent, Nashville Division; Paradigm Talent Agency
"There's a commercial country industry in Nashville that is unbelievable," says Levine, "but there is also a parallel universe that provides opportunities for all kinds of music to come out of Music City." He points to the success of not easily categorized Paradigm acts Blackfoot Gypsies, Anderson East and Brent Cobb, as well as the breakout success of Margo Price, who appeared on Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown and sui generis Sturgill Simpson, who's represented by Atamian. "Sturgill won the 2017 Grammy for best country album without any radio play," says Levine. "There's an opportunity now for bands to do things their own way without trying to mold into a format that relies on radio, synchs and licensing deals. We're in an era where authenticity is celebrated and rewarded."
Song Stuck in His Head: Levine: "'It's All Going to Pot' by Willie Nelson."
CHARLIE COOK, 66
Vp country format, Cumulus Media; operations manager, Cumulus Nashville; program director, WSM-FM Nashville
JOHN SHOMBY, 66
Director of programming, NASH Network; program director, WKDF Nashville
After a rocky 2015 during which Cumulus' two most senior executives, brothers Lewis and John Dickey, stepped down, Shomby points to signs of a turnaround at the country radio behemoth. NASH's Ty, Kelly & Chuck morning show is up nearly one point in key demographic ratings from 2016 to 2017, and the numbers for The Blair Garner Show are up an estimated 10 to 15 percent during the same period. For Shomby, a recent transplant who moved to Nashville's Franklin neighborhood 18 months ago, the massive surge in label output is the biggest hurdle facing the country format. During one recent week, he says, "67 songs had at least one add on the BDS chart," the Nielsen service that tracks radio airplay. "When listeners are just catching on to a song, a new one by that artist is being released."
Executive Producer, Country Music Association Awards
The CMA producer aced one of the biggest challenges of his career when he produced the 50th-anniversary broadcast of the CMA Awards. Deaton put together a show that opened with a massive medley of country hits performed by artists from each of the last five decades, including Charley Pride, Randy Travis and Reba McEntire. "My biggest worry was leaving somebody out," says Deaton, who followed that spectacle with another: a genre-bending appearance by Beyoncé backed by the Dixie Chicks that nearly broke the Internet and helped the telecast retain 93 percent of its 2015 audience, despite going up against game seven of the World Series, a historic face-off between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians.
Time-Travel Music Fantasy: "The Beatles on the rooftop of Abbey Road Studios in 1969."
J.R. SCHUMANN, 35
Senior director of country programming, SiriusXM
The executive in charge of SiriusXM’s country programming says he’s proudest of the artists the satellite broadcaster's top country channel, The Highway, has spotlighted early in their careers -- many who have broken through to a larger audience. (SiriusXM reaches 31.6 million subscribers but doesn’t break out listenership by genre.) During the past year, Schumann has watched two female artists who were designated "Highway Finds" catch fire: Carly Pearce, whose "Every Little Thing" is No. 18 on the Aug. 5 Country Airplay chart and has sold 138,000 downloads, and Ashley McBryde, whose single from her upcoming album, Girl Goin' Nowhere, "A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega," got early love from Schumann and helped the Arkansas native score her Grand Ole Opry debut in June.
PHIL GUERINI, 53
Vp music strategy, Disney Channels Worldwide; GM, Radio Disney Network
In addition to having a huge influence on young audiences, Radio Disney reaches 63 million listeners a month, and in 2017, Guerini upped the network's commitment to the nearly 2-year-old Radio Disney Country. Distribution of the online format was expanded to iHeartRadio and, in June, the House of Mouse changed the call letters of its Los Angeles Radio Disney broadcast station from KDIS to KRDC, making it the first terrestrial station to carry the country format. That same month, a Radio Disney Country stage at CMA Fest in Nashville featured young artists, including Luke Combs and Hunter Hayes. Says Guerini: "It was really a tremendous validation of what we're doing when you looked out across the crowd and saw our core audience."
Nonindustry Leader He Admires: "Reed Hastings and Mark Cuban."
Senior vp music strategy and talent, CMT
Fram continues to bust musical boundaries at CMT, guiding the CMT Awards in June to over 3 million viewers through inventive pairings such as Lady Antebellum with Earth, Wind & Fire. She's also doing her part to correct what she says is the biggest issue facing the country music industry: "the lack of support for female artists." Her Next Women of Country initiative kicked off its third annual tour this spring with newcomers Maggie Rose and Post Monroe supporting Martina McBride.
Act She'd Like To See Go Country: "John Mayer. He is respected by and has collaborated with many of our artists."
ROD PHILLIPS, 48
Senior vp programming/country brand manager, iHeartMedia
BOBBY BONES, 37
Radio personality, iHeartMedia
"I don't have smart answers for why this stuff has worked," says Bones of the 5 million listeners he draws to his syndicated radio program, The Bobby Bones Show, on a weekly basis. But he allows that his honest approach to the music probably has something to do with it. "If I'm hanging out with record labels, I can't really have strong opinions on what is or isn't good," says the Arkansas native. He also has Phillips -- who oversees more than 150 U.S. stations and brought Bones to Nashville in 2012 -- keeping things real. "He's someone I trust to really smack me down if I need it," says Bones, who will become the National Radio Hall of Fame's youngest inductee in November.
Biggest Issue Facing Country: "The industry in general has to figure out how to fairly compensate songwriters," says Bones. "I had Jessi Alexander on my podcast, and she said she has made more money singing background vocals on streams than she has actually writing the songs. And her songs have had millions of streams."
TIM ROBERTS, 56
Vp country programming, CBS Radio; vp music programming, CBS Radio Detroit
Only six months on the job after replacing Jeff Kapugi as the architect of CBS Radio's country programming strategy, Roberts hints he'll be taking a market-specific approach to the other country stations that he manages. Noting that WYCD, the Detroit country outlet he programs, rose from No. 10 to No. 2 with listeners ages 12 and older in the past year, the Motor City native says, "Our focus is on developing our individual stations, which collectively makes our format stronger."
BEVILLE DUNKERLEY, 42
Director of artist marketing and industry relations, Pandora
RACHEL WHITNEY, 35
Head of country music programming, Pandora
A longtime Nashville journalist, Dunkerley knows better than most that music is an ever-changing model. "It's no longer the day where any major-label artist is expected to go gold or platinum. Labels have to look at their artists like they're a brand to make money in different ways." With that in mind, Dunkerley and Whitney work with artists using Pandora's free marketing platform, AMP, to grow their fan bases. "Every artist from any genre has the keys to market album and single downloads, tour tickets, T-shirts -- whatever they want, as long as it's music-related," says Dunkerley.
JOHN MARKS, 63
Global head of country, Spotify
Marks already was a powerful tastemaker in Nashville at his former job running country for SiriusXM. But since joining Spotify nearly two years ago, he has been helping the format's artists reach a potentially bigger audience: over 50 million paying subscribers (compared to SiriusXM's 31.6 million) and a Hot Country playlist that has nearly 4 million followers. After Marks playlisted Luke Combs' "Hurricane," it quickly racked up nearly 70 million streams, helping Combs land a record deal with Sony.
Act He'd Like To See Go Country: "Justin Timberlake. Since he did 'Drink You Away' at the CMA Awards, I playlisted the song. It went through the roof in streams."
KELLY RICH, 50
Senior label relations manager, Amazon
EMILY COHEN, 33
Music curator, Amazon
Amazon got Nashville's attention last October when it announced it had landed the exclusive rights to stream the entire catalog of country icon Garth Brooks on its new subscription service, Amazon Music Unlimited. But Brooks isn't the only one boosting Amazon's country presence: Cohen, a veteran of the streaming service Rdio, manages Amazon's nearly 300 country, Christian and Americana playlists, while former Big Machine Label Group sales executive Rich, who joined Amazon in February, runs its Nashville label relations. The percentage of country streams on the service is now twice the industry average, and, as of July 8, 24 of its 50 top-streamed albums were country.
KEN TUCKER, 54
Music programming, country; Apple
SALLY SEITZ, 49
Artist and label relations, country; Apple
Apple Music has amassed over 27 million subscribers, attracting country fans with exclusive content such as a Beats 1 interview with Chris Stapleton and a look at the making of Dierks Bentley's album Black. "I've always been a fan of new artists, going back to my radio days in the 1980s," says Tucker, who oversees the service's country programming and moonlights as chairman of the board for the Academy of Country Music, helping hire Pete Fisher -- longtime manager of the Grand Ole Opry -- as the ACM's new CEO in January. Seitz, a former digital executive at BMG, manages day-to-day relationships with Nashville labels and artists and helps them promote their music with original content and marketing campaigns.
Co-owner, Big Yellow Dog Music
Punching above its weight, this 10-person firm had a stellar year with Maren Morris, who won the best country solo performance Grammy Award for "My Church." In addition to writing the song, Morris recorded it for Big Yellow Dog Music at Wallace's urging, which turned out to be pivotal in getting her signed to Columbia Nashville in 2015. Since then, Morris has sold 1.8 million digital downloads; logged four hits on the Country Airplay chart, including her featured turn on Thomas Rhett's No. 1 "Craving You"; and won both the 2016 CMA and 2017 ACM new artist awards.
KENT EARLS, 45
Executive vp/GM, Universal Music Publishing Group Nashville
UMPG Nashville's wild 2017 ride on the Hot Country Songs chart culminated with Hunt's 24-week (and counting) reign at No. 1 with "Body Like a Back Road," a record for a solo artist. Earls also points out that the music publisher recently had five of the top 10 songs on the Country Airplay chart, with hits by Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts and Lady Antebellum. "Our strategy of offering boutique development services with big-time backup is paying off," says Earls, who fraternizes with the talent in "the saloon," a snack-filled casual room outfitted with a vintage Seeburg Select-O-Matic jukebox that's down the hall from his office.
You Can't Sleep -- What Apps Do You Check? "Twitter, for breaking news; Instagram, for fun; and the iTunes Store, to see how our artists and songs are selling."
GORDON KERR, 50
CEO, Black River Entertainment
Although Black River Entertainment is known primarily as the record label of Kelsea Ballerini and Craig Morgan, Kerr is quick to point out that his operation is a multifaceted music company with a recording studio, an artist-management division and a music publishing arm that represents songwriter Forest Glen Whitehead and Grammy winner Josh Osborne's earlier catalog. It also has placed among the top 10 music publishers of the top 100 radio songs in four of the last eight quarters. Kerr says the growth happened organically. "When we had the label and some -publishing, then we needed a world-class recording studio," says the father of three, adding, "If somebody asked me six months ago whether we were going into the Americana space, I would have said, 'Probably not.' But then we met Carolina Story." (The Nashville duo is the label's latest find.) That signing, notes Kerr, dovetailed with Black River's commitment to "fostering dreams."
Biggest Issue Facing Country: "Security of people, security of product, security of property, including intellectual property."
TROY TOMLINSON, 53
President/CEO, Sony/ATV Nashville
Tomlinson claims he "doesn't like measuring things," but he doesn't hesitate to tout his division's unbroken 15-year run of winning BMI's country music publisher of the year award. During the last two years, Sony/ATV has been the top country publisher in quarterly market share for the top 100 radio songs, snaring the top spot six times, and averaging a market share of 21.7 percent. Despite the success, the father of three says it's a perilous time for songwriters: "We're seeing a gradual and painful exodus of truly gifted songwriters who simply can't make a living from the scraps left after others have indulged to excess."
BEN VAUGHN, 41
President, Warner/Chappell Music Nashville
"I like to show up every day and crush it for songwriters," says Vaughn. So far in 2017, he and his team have done just that: Warner/Chappell has had the No. 1 Country Airplay song in 20 of the first 30 weeks of the year, thanks to songwriters like Ashley Gorley, who co-wrote two of those chart-toppers, Blake Shelton's "A Guy With a Girl" and Jon Pardi's "Dirt on My Boots." Vaughn also shouts out Chris Stapleton, whose latest LP, From A Room: Volume 1, was the first gold-certified country album of the year. With a packed roster of talent, Vaughn is hopeful that Warner/Chappell will take ASCAP's publisher of the year honor for a fifth consecutive time. "It's looking pretty good," he says.
KOS WEAVER, 48
Executive vp, BMG Nashville
Since its revival in 2009, BMG has rebuilt itself into a publishing operation and, more recently, a label to be reckoned with through a series of savvy acquisitions, such as its purchase of BBR Music Group -- home of Jason Aldean -- in January. Weaver, BMG's man in Music City since 2013, has created a critical mass of country songwriters mined from these deals and through additional signings. The result: During the last eight quarters, BMG has averaged a 6.7 percent quarterly market share of the top 100 radio country songs, making it the fourth-largest publisher of country songs by this criteria.
CRAIG WISEMAN, 53
Owner, Big Loud
SETH ENGLAND, 31
Partner, Big Loud
England says the multiservice music company's biggest achievement of the past year was keeping its eye on the ball for Florida Georgia Line, which it manages. In addition to helping the band release Dig Your Roots last August, which has generated 389.4 million on-demand audio streams, England says Big Loud helped the band launch its Old Camp Whiskey brand. Meanwhile, its publishing operation, a joint venture with Round Hill Music, consistently placed fifth in Billboard's quarterly ranking of music publishers of the top 100 country radio songs. And Wiseman says Big Loud's label is diversifying "beyond country."
Act He'd Like To See Go Country: England: "Having spent a lot of studio time with Jason Derulo, he could be an artist for any genre."
Executive vp creative and business affairs, SESAC
KELLI TURNER, 46
Executive vp operations and corporate development/CFO, SESAC
SESAC's 2017 began with its acquisition by the Blackstone Group in a deal reported to be close to $1 billion. Turner and Lord are charged with helping chairman/CEO John Josephson optimize the opportunities afforded by having a deep-pocketed, long-term investor. Turner has focused on international growth, and engineered a 2016 Pan-European licensing pact with Swiss collection society SUISA. Meanwhile, Lord, whose wife runs an equestrian ranch outside of Nashville, has concentrated on signing evergreen acts like Green Day, Kings of Leon, Randy Newman and Rosanne Cash that build on the performing rights organization's invitation-only roster of writers with "ubiquitous and eternal copyrights."
Best of Nashville: Lord: "The growth of the creative community beyond the country base."
MICHAEL MARTIN, 55
Vp membership, Nashville; ASCAP
With over 600,000 members -- including Garth Brooks, Ashley Gorley and Jennifer Nettles -- and 2016 income of $1.1 billion, ASCAP is a revenue machine for its roster of Music City songwriters and composers. Martin manages the PRO's local staff and budget. "Our member retention is huge," says the Mineral Wells, Texas-raised executive, who adds that more than a third of the honors at the 2016 ASCAP Country Awards went to first-time winners.
Nonindustry Leader He Admires: "John C. Maxwell, leadership expert, speaker and author. I love this quote of his: 'Learn to say "no" to the good so you can say "yes" to the best.' "
JODY WILLIAMS, 61
Vp writer/publisher relations, BMI Nashville
Williams, who was elected to serve as president of the CMA board starting in 2018, says BMI affiliates won 74 percent of the awards handed out by the ACM in April, and 56 percent of the 2016 CMA honors. Members Thomas Rhett, Tim McGraw, Jon Pardi and Maren Morris also raised the PRO's profile over the past year. Record revenue of $1.1 billion for fiscal 2016 was another bright spot for BMI, which, with 500 employees on Music Row, has the town's largest PRO presence. Says the Nashville native and golf aficionado: "We play a major role in the community."
Biggest Issue Facing Country: "Country radio playlists are 80 percent male. The lack of female voices needs to change."
RUSSELL A. JONES, 67
Principal, the law offices of Russell A. Jones Jr. & Anjlee Khurana
One of the top attorneys in Music City, Jones negotiated Garth Brooks' exclusive Amazon streaming and Target box set deals and a Williams-Sonoma product line for Trisha Yearwood. The married father of two says he takes pride in being able to balance work and family, which included throwing himself a birthday party in Marrakesh, Morocco, in June.
JOEL KATZ, 73
Chairman, global entertainment and media practice; Greenberg Traurig
JESS ROSEN, 62
Co-chairman, Atlanta entertainment and media practice; Greenberg Traurig
Despite being based 250 miles away from Nashville, in Atlanta, Katz and Rosen are two of Music City's top go-to attorneys. In addition to representing such executives as Universal Music Group Nashville's Mike Dungan, Katz brokered Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's new Sony Music Entertainment pact (with McGraw's attorney Rusty Jones), noting that negotiating for a married couple "made it unique." Rosen was instrumental in setting up Florida Georgia Line's deal with Proximo for the duo's Old Camp Whiskey as well as FGL House, a planned entertainment complex in downtown Nashville. "That's real mailbox money for these guys," says Rosen. He should know: He also set up Kenny Chesney's lucrative Blue Chair Bay Rum company and restructured Miranda Lambert's contract at Sony Nashville. "Just assume she has the superstar deal that everyone would want," he says.
You Can't Sleep -- What App Do You Check First? Rosen "I like WTSO, Wines Til Sold Out. Great bargains."
MIKE MILOM, 74
Partner, Milom Horsnell Crow Rose Kelley
Milom likes to think of himself as someone who fellow attorneys want on the other side of a negotiation. Recent deals include Kelsea Ballerini's global publishing agreement with Sony/ATV and the return of Hank Williams Jr.'s opening theme for ESPN's Monday Night Football. Other clients include Luke Bryan, Emmylou Harris and Keith Urban. While he refuses to discuss the deals that keep him busy, he says getting his artists a bigger slice of the $3.9 billion streaming pie is a priority.
Song Stuck in His Head: " 'Skylark,' performed by my wife, Micki Fuhrman, on a private jazz EP recorded for my last birthday."
BUSINESS & BRANDING
PETE FISHER, 54
CEO, Academy Of Country Music
The former vice president/GM of the Grand Ole Opry took the reins of the Los Angeles-based ACM in January, just in time to oversee its 2017 awards ceremony. "What the staff did in Las Vegas was remarkable: 80 artists, 17 events, 13 venues, not including the show," he says. Fisher has since addressed the business of charting the ACM's future, and recently hired longtime Recording Academy executive Nick Di Fruscia to oversee the ACM voting process, among other responsibilities.
Nonindustry Leader He Admires: "Elon Musk. Having bought a Tesla, I see that he thinks on a different plane. His work has changed my thinking."
JEREMY HOLLEY, 39 // LAURA HUTFLESS, 35
"We always ask ourselves, 'What's the headline that has never been written before?' " says Holley of the approach that he and Hutfless, formerly of Warner Music Nashville and Creative Artists Agency, respectively, take at the marketing agency they launched in 2015. Last October, for instance, they partnered with Garth Brooks to launch a Snapchat account for the state of Tennessee designed to lure millennial tourists. "Every single one of his albums was recorded in Tennessee, so we made 'Snapumentaries' that told this story over a three-week period," says Holley. "The series culminated in a free show at at the Ascend Amphitheater, and the only way to get tickets was through the new Snapchat channel." The campaign brought in 31,000 followers overnight and 6.2 million views total. It also was one of two Flytevu campaigns shortlisted at the Cannes Lions festival in June.
MARY ANN MCCREADY // JAMIE CHEEK, 46 // DUANE CLARK, 47
Business managers/co-owners, Flood Bumstead McCready & McCarthy
Although FBMM doesn't release its client roster, the business-management firm reportedly counts Blake Shelton, Sam Hunt and Keith Urban among its country customers. The partners focus, in part, on issues such as streaming royalties and ticket revenue. Its biggest issue? "Scalping has reached epic proportions of abuse," says McCready.
Time-Travel Music Fantasy: Clark: "Any Grand Ole Opry performance in the 1950s: Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Chet Atkins, Kitty Wells, George Jones. Just give me one."
KERRY O'NEIL, 64
Co-founder, O'Neil Hagaman
"Having two of the largest arena tours in music has been intense," says O'Neil, who -- though he declines to confirm or discuss any of the artists on his roster -- is referring to Garth Brooks and the duo of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, according to industry insiders. They're just three of the A-list clients O'Neil's business-management firm reps. Twenty-two people, roughly half the staff, have 10 or more years with the firm, which launched in 1984 with partners Al Hagaman Jr. and Cheryl Harris. "That institutional knowledge is key to delivering quality work," says O'Neil, who's a founding partner, with Carla Wallace, in publisher Big Yellow Dog Music.
Favorite Artist Of Any Genre: "You might find me singing Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine' if I find myself with a guitar in my hands," says O'Neil, a one-time aspiring songwriter.
KYLE YOUNG, 64
CEO, Country Music Hall Of Fame And Museum
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum feted its 50th anniversary in April, but Young, who has worked there since he was 22, is focused on attracting the next generation of country fans. The hall, which draws 1 million visitors annually and brought $67 million into Nashville in 2016, has, thanks to angels like Vince Gill and Keith Urban and their All for the Hall benefits, weathered periods of instability to emerge financially fit enough that, in July, it launched Community Counts. The program, in part, allows local youth 18 years and younger to visit the museum for free. Says Young: "You get them in here, and it gives them a sense of place, a sense of identity and sense of attachment."
Time-Travel Music Fantasy: "Late 1952, to see Hank Williams Sr."
Contributors: Trevor Anderson, Jim Asker, Dave Brooks, Dean Budnick, Keith Caulfield, Ed Christman, Tatiana Cirisano, Chuck Dauphin, Adrienne Gaffney, Jenn Haltman, Hannah Karp, Steve Knopper, Joe Levy, Brooke Mazurek, Melinda Newman, Paula Parisi, Eric Spitznagel, Taylor Weatherby, Deborah Wilker, Nick Williams