Backbeat: Lionel Richie, George Strait, Play Surprise Sets At UMG Nashville CRS Showcase
Backbeat: Lionel Richie, George Strait, Play Surprise Sets At UMG Nashville CRS Showcase

Lionel Richie (left) and George Strait who bookended performances at the Universal Music Group Nashville's third annual artist showcase at the Country Music Seminar. (Photo: Dirk Vanoucek)

In what has become a recent highlight of Country Radio Seminar week in Nashville, Universal Music Group Nashville held its third annual artist showcase at the famed Ryman Auditorium with a mix of veteran, newly established and up-and-coming artists from their roster.

The label made sure to tell attendees to be prompt so as to not miss a very special performance. That turned out to be a two-song set by the legendary and mostly reclusive George Strait, who was making his first appearance at CRS in more than a decade. The crooner, who holds a Billboard Country Songs record with 44 No. 1s, performed "I'll Always Remember You," from his recent album "Here For a Good Time," and his 2008 hit "Troubadour."

For many in the crowd, an appearance by Strait at CRS was akin to an Elvis sighting on Broadway. The singer was as smooth as always and relayed his thrill with being on stage -- even 30+ years into his career -by saying, "My feet don't touch the ground 'til I walk of the stage."

Luke Lewis, Chairman/CEO of Universal Music Group Nashville; with singer and American Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina. (Photo: Peyton Hoge)

Each artist following Strait performed one track, almost all being their newest releases. Directly following Strait was multi-platinum artist Lee Ann Womack who performed current top 40 single "There is a God." Others that followed included Laura Bell Bundy, Kip Moore, Easton Corbin, Josh Turner and David Nail. The latter's ballad "Sound of a Million Dreams," the follow-up to his first No. 1 single "Let It Rain," was one of the show's highlights.

American Idol finalist Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina also made an appearance, as did former pop singer-turned country crooner Josh Kelley, whose song "Your Move," he says was written following a fight with his actress wife Katherine Heigl.

American Idol finalist and Scotty McCreery (left) with country music legnd George Strait (Photo: Peyton Hoge)

Among new acts, which included Canaan Smith, Randy Montana, Chris Stapleton, among others, Kacey Musgraves received the most favorable response with her song "Merry Go Round." The young singer was extremely excited to be making her first appearance at the iconic Ryman, pointing out her proud grandparents in the crowd.

Closing the UMGN show for a second year in a row was Lionel Richie, whose album of country duet covers of his pop hits, "Tuskegee" comes out on the label March 27. Richie was joined on stage by Capitol recording artist Luke Bryan, who joined him on versions of the classic Commodores hits "Easy" and "Oh No."

Amid the excitement of Strait and Richie's surprise appearances, a different newsflash was overlooked by many: Vince Gill's announcement that he's no longer with the label.

"For the first time in 30 years, I don't have a record deal. Don't know that I want one," he said, according to CMTT. "I'm just grateful for where I've been, and you've been a big part of where I've been and where I'm going. To my MCA family, it was really a sweet ride the last 23 years, and I appreciate everything you do."

From left: Royce Risser. Sr. VP, National Promotion, Universal Music Group Nashville; Luke Lewis, Chairman/CEO of Universal Music Group Nashville; George Strait; Producer Tony Brown; Erv Woolsey, George Straight's Manager. (Photo: Peyton Hoge)

luke richieLuke Lewis, CEO of Universal Music Group Nashville with Lionel Richie at the UMGN artist showcase (Photo: Peyton Hoge)