“You have to do something else with all that celebrity currency that you get,” Bentley told the packed room of radio industry professionals. “This guy is one of my favorite people in town. I just love his voice. That traditional sound, you just hear it every time he sings. I’m here to hand off the Humanitarian Award to Blake Shelton.”
Following a video message of congratulations from Today’s Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford, a montage of clips showcasing Shelton’s humanitarian work was shown. The short video included Shelton’s appearance as host during the Healing in the Heartland Relief Benefit Concert that provided rebuilding and recovery in Oklahoma following tornado devastation, his involvement in Red Nose Day, and a check Shelton gave the Jimmy Everest Center in Oklahoma for $600,000. The singer then took the stage to accept his honor.
“This is a way bigger deal than I thought it would be. The cool thing about country artists is that I feel like we all step up anytime we get a chance,” Shelton noted. “We have the easy part. We get to make music and that helps to generate awareness for certain things, it generates money for things. [We] step up anytime we get a chance. I couldn’t be more honored.”
Shelton then played two of his biggest hits for the room including first single “Austin” and fan favorite “Ol’ Red.” Prefacing “Austin,” Shelton explained that he was given the demo of the song while signed to his first record deal in 1998. He fell in love with the heartfelt ballad, but it was already on hold by Clay Walker.
“I want to dedicate this song to Clay Walker today. Thank you so much for not recording this song,” he joked.
Throughout the luncheon, much of the label’s roster performed, including recent Grammy winners Dan + Shay, Devin Dawson, Morgan Evans, Chris Janson, Cody Johnson, Ashley McBryde and Cole Swindell. John Esposito, chairman/CEO of Warner Music Nashville, was pleased by the turnout of the label’s inaugural CRS performance and hinted that “there will be many more to come.”
“We’re thrilled to be able to kick off the 50th anniversary of CRS with performances of a number of our amazing artists,” he said. “We have an important and diverse roster and I wish every single one of them could be here to play for you today. I’m excited to showcase some of our brightest talent.”
While each artist performed their latest single, it was McBryde and Johnson that received standing ovations for their one-song set. Prefacing her latest single “Girl Going Nowhere,” McBryde explained that she penned the song with Jeremy Bussey on the day Guy Clark died. “I was a mess. [Jeremy] said all we have to do today is write what you want to sing the very first time you play the Opry. Let’s write that song and then write it in such a way where if Guy Clark had to listen to it, he wouldn’t mind,” she recalled.
“I had an algebra teacher in high school, she went around the class asking everybody what we were going to do when we grow up. She got to me and said, ‘Miss McBryde, what will you do for a living?’ I said, ‘I’m going to move to Nashville, Tennessee, and write songs and people are going to sing them on the radio,’” she explained of her latest radio single. “In front of the whole class, she said, ‘That’s stupid. That won’t happen. Remember where you’re from and have a good backup plan.’ All these years I thought she said 'backup band.'”
Earlier, Johnson thanked the Warner Music Nashville team for allowing him a shot at being played on country radio. His latest single, “On My Way to You,” is currently in rotation.
“As an independent artist for 10 years, I had to really come to terms with the fact that radio was not going to play my music,” he explained. “We spent the last 10 years on the road playing music that I believed in. Through the help of John Esposito, Cris Lacy and everybody here at Warner Music Nashville, I get to play my brand of country music on a much broader spectrum for all of y’all. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Country Radio Seminar runs through Friday.