Above: UMG Nashville promotion staffers and artists take a photo on the steps of the historic Ryman Auditorium after the show. Hosted by SVP promotion Royce Risser, the event featured performances by artists including Billy Currington, Brothers Osborne, Chris Stapleton, Darius Rucker, David Nail, Dierks Bentley, Drake White, Eric Church, Eric Paslay, George Strait, Josh Turner, Kacey Musgraves, Kelleigh Bannen, Lady Antebellum, Lauren Alaina, Little Big Town, Luke Bryan, Mickey Guyton, Randy Montana, Scotty McCreery and Vince Gill. (Photo: Peyton Hoge)
“Every year we leave here saying ‘How do we top that?” UMG Nashville senior VP of promotion Royce Risser told the crowd gathered at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium for the fourth annual Universal Music Group lunch. “We figured it out—have a merger!”
This year’s showcase for Country Radio Seminar attendees featured the combined UMG and Capitol rosters with performances by 21 artists. Lady Antebellum opened the show with their current single “Downtown” and before the trio exited the stage, Risser presented mother-to-be Hillary Scott with a white onesie emblazoned with “Baby Antebellum.” During the show, the country radio programmers and industry execs such as manager Dan Harrell, Marco Music Group director of radio promotion Rick Kelly and Billboard’s Silvio Pietroluongo who were treated to music from both UMG’s new acts and the company’s superstars.
Newcomer Drake White previewed his debut single “Simple Life” while Eric Paslay, who has penned such hits as the Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” served up a potent new ballad “She Don’t Love You,” from his upcoming debut album. Kacey Musgraves, Brothers Osborne, Kelleigh Bannen and Chris Stapleton were among the other new artsits courting radio folks, but the newcomer who won the first standing ovation of the day was Mickey Guyton. (Vince Gill, Eric Church and George Strait were the other artists to earn a standing O.) The audience was cheering for Guyton by the time she got to the chorus of “Better Than You Left Me” and were on their feet by the time she finished.
From left: Rick Kelly, director, radio promotions, Marco Music Group; Bob Cole (in rear) owner KOKE-FM Austin, Texas and Laurie Gail, VP label and radio relations Play MPE.
“It was an out of body experience,” Guyton told Billboard after her performance. “Honestly, I was trying not to cry. I’m feeling so blessed.”
Reigning CMA group of the year Little Big Town thanked country radio for their support. “What a difference a year makes! Holy cow,” exclaimed LBT’s Kimberly Schlapman before the foursome introduced their new single “Your Side of the Bed.”
Luke Bryan welcomed Stapleton to the stage to sing harmony during his performance and Josh Turner gave Stapleton a shout out. “He’s on a roll,” said Turner before singing the Stapleton-penned tune “Deeper Than My Love.” “He had some songs left over,” Turner said of the tune which he cut on his “Punching Bag” album.
One of the lighter moments was a new song by Dierks Bentley titled “Drunk on a Plane.” He admitted he’s not sure if it would make it on his next album, but wanted to offer the crowd a new tune.
Among the other artists to take the Ryman stage were Scotty McCreery, Randy Montana, David Nail, Darius Rucker and Lauren Alaina who almost missed the show because she was taking her high school graduation test and said she had her fingers crossed. “I hope you like my song,” she said. “I don’t have anything to fall back on.”
UMG Nashville’s Risser said he almost cried last year when it looked like Gill was leaving Universal, but said it turns out “He’s a freakin’ liar!” Gill explained to the crowd that his contract was over but then UMG chief Mike Dungan called and said he wanted to make an album with him. “I said, ‘Done,’ I’m back,” Gill says.
Gill dedicated his performance of “Go Rest High on That Mountain” to the late Mindy McCready saying he didn’t know her well but “she was part of our family, part of the history of country music and that mattered.”
Strait concluded the two-hour plus show with a three-song set as Musgraves, who had come to sit out front in the audience, moved to the front of the stage to snap a few photos.