Country Radio Seminar week started with a bang on Monday afternoon with the Second Annual “Legendary Lunch at The Palm.” A partnership between Nashville publicist Kirt Webster and the CMA, the event gave radio programmers a chance to break bread — and hear classic showbiz stories from some of the most revered icons in the industry.
All told, the event was attended by thirty-four veteran artists who represented 1,113 charted singles on the Billboard hit lists and an amazing 37 gold albums — along with 27 platinum. For Webster, the event allows him to pay tribute to many of the artists he grew up listening to in Arizona.
“These are the artists that helped to build the industry as we know it today. It’s amazing to be able to sit at a table across from someone like Bill Anderson or Roy Clark and hear some of their classic stories. The artists love it, and so do the radio guys. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Anderson — a 2001 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame — agrees with Webster, saying “This is really cool. It reminds me of the days of our yearly disc jockey convention and the early days of Fan Fair when we were able to get together with our radio friends.” The veteran Grand Ole Opry member, who got his start in the entertainment industry on the microphone at WGAU in Athens, Ga, says it also allows the artists to spend some rare time together. “People think we see each other all the time and hang out together. But, we’re all going in forty different directions. So, it’s fun to come to an event like this and catch up.”
Two-time CMA Award winner Lorrie Morgan admitted that she was not only there as an artist — but also as someone who has as many memories of hearing some of the other acts on the radio during her formative years. “I am definitely a fan,” she said. “Look around this room, and you see people like Jeannie Seely and Roy Clark, in addition to performers like T.G. Sheppard and Kelly Lang that I am very good friends with. I’m just fortunate to be in this company.”
That feeling was reciprocated by their radio counterparts. Mike Thomas (KFAV / Warrenton, MO) echoed the thoughts of Morgan, saying: “It’s a perfect way to start off a week of discussing radio’s future, by reminding us of how we all got here. Congrats to Kirt Webster and the CMA on an amazing assembly of country royalty. When we radio guys become autograph-seeking fans, you know you’ve struck a positive nerve.”
The artists weren’t the only legendary figures in attendance. Veteran manager Jim Halsey was among the crowd, and said that the artists wouldn’t have had the impact they have enjoyed over the years without the men and women spinning the music on the air. “Radio helped to build it, and back in the early days when country music was fighting to get heard, there were specified and dedicated stations in each community that played eclectic types of country music, and that’s what I think made the format what it is today.”
One aspect of the event that touched the hearts of the artists was in the fact how much the radio personalities remembered of their music. For an artist such as Sylvia — known for her 80s hits like “Nobody” and “Snapshot” — that was something that made her smile.
“It’s wonderful to know that people still know the songs, because it’s been a while,” said the singer, who last charted in 1987. “But, it’s nice to be remembered, and it brings renewed energy and life into these artists who are still viable. Maybe they’re not out there on the top radio stations, but we’re still out there doing shows and making music. There’s a huge fan base out there. A song comes to life when you breathe life into it when you sing it, and I think breathing life into the collective memories of music over the last several decades is a good thing to be doing right now.” The singer told Billboard that she will soon release her first album of new music in over a decade.
As the event continues to grow, it’s inevitable that some of the artists might not be there forever. That thought was definitely on the mind of longtime Hee Haw co-host Roy Clark. “It’s such a special time. I rarely get to see a lot of these artists. It’s really like a homecoming when you spend all day just saying hello to people and swap stories. I wouldn’t miss this for the world. It’s a real soft spot in my busy schedule.”
Last year’s event caught the attention for Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, who felt compelled to join Webster in the event. She said it speaks to the timeless quality of the music — and the artists who make it. “One of the things that struck me last night in watching the 50th Anniversary of the Super Bowl was when they honored the MVPs of each game who were still alive. Many of them had that one big year, while some played in a few Super Bowls, but our artists are still out there touring. It really struck me how our audience doesn’t have an end. There’s still an audience for great country music in all different genres. You can have a CRS that emphasizes today’s stars of radio, but events like this really highlight that a lot of great artists are still out there playing great shows day in and day out.”
With the CMA celebrating the 50th anniversary of their yearly awards show, Trahern said it’s going to be a special year for the organization. “We’re going to be rolling out an online series next week called 50 For 50, which showcase the best of the CMA Awards and some of the themes over the years. And, we certainly have big plans for the awards show itself.”
At the end of the day, Webster stated that the event works because there’s a mutual respect factor. “There seems to be an appreciation that the legends come to this event, and actually care about the radio people that have played them, but at the same time, these guys who come to the Country Radio Seminar are getting bombarded with invitations. The fact that they chose this events over others they could have gone to tells me where their musical head is. They love these legends and the music that they heard during their childhood. Otherwise, they could go and see the hot new acts that the record label is putting in front of them. To me, it’s a positive trend.”
And, that trend seemed to be appreciated by all involved. Ed Carter (WKSR / Pulaski, TN) summed up the spirit of the event best. “This is what CRS is all about to me. It’s about celebrating the cornerstones of our industry who’ve carried the torch and brought us to where we are today. This has always been the highlight of CRS for me!”