Leading Ladies Win CRS 2016
February 12, 2016
CRS 2016 has been over for 39 hours as this is being written, and I’ve spent most of that time processing my two-and-a-half day, 57-hour CRS experience – which included panels, lunches, shows, dinners, a thousand micro-conversations, 10 total alcoholic beverages for me (yes, I kept track), not to mention the special gift that was a Monday through Wednesday scheduling anomaly for this event. Quick note: CRS 2017 is back to a Wednesday through Friday cycle, set for February 22nd through 24th, 2017.
But even though Thursday morning felt like Saturday, and I had to go to the office and (gasp!) work instead of driving home, flopping on the couch like a complete slug, and shamelessly napping in and out of televised golf, I believe I have clarity on my 32nd CRS now. As usual, I come off the week re-energized, challenged, exhilarated – all the things CRS has done for me since my first one in 1985.
Additionally, I feel confident in declaring my annual list of CRS winners.
If you recall last year, I crowned Capitol’s Keith Urban as CRS 2015 champ, based on his impressive late-night show at the Ryman and – more impressively – his candid, revealing interview session which ended CRS on an emotional and inspirational note. This year, I didn’t hear a consensus buzz on a “CRS winner,” but after covering a number of panels, moderating four more, reading all of our All Access CRS coverage, and sitting through a spontaneous seminar debriefing with my team – Monta Vaden and Briana Galluccio – we collectively believe there is indeed a clear-cut, CRS winner, along with some runners-up and honorable mentions.
Our #1, hands down CRS Champ for 2016:
Women. Ladies ruled CRS on every level in 2016: In the business sector and onstage. Monday night (2/8), it was Maddie & Tae, Martina McBride, and Ashley Campbell at the Grand Ole Opry show; Brandy Clark showcased and played the Warner Music Nashville suite, killing it both times. Columbia showcased Maren Morris at 3rd & Lindsley. Then it was Lauren Alaina, Kacey Musgraves and Little Big Town with Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman at the UMG Ryman lunch and Tara Thompson and Jennifer Nettles at the Wednesday BMLG lunch. To close out CRS, Arista’s Cam and Black River’s Kelsea Ballerini killed it on the New Faces Show lineup. They were both fantastic and seized the moment with stunning performances and onstage attire that was both classy and flamboyant at the same time. Cam’s exuberance and positive aura are infectious, no matter what your gender is. Kelsea looks, acts, and sounds like a star.
For the other part of CRS – the curriculum of educational panels – once again, women stood out, beginning with CRS Agenda Co-Vice Chair Judy Lakin of Cox Media Group/Houston who, along with fellow co-chair Greg Frey from Cumulus and Agenda Chair Tom Hanrahan, oversaw a terrific educational seminar. Then there was the well-attended Tuesday (2/9) Women’s Mentoring Breakfast that featured Alison Bonaguro, Becky Brenner, Beverlee Brannigan, Erica Farber, Jinny Laderer, Katie Dean, Kristen Williams, Mandy McCormack, and Sarah Frazier – all of them successful and impressive ladies from every segment of our business, willing to offer valuable information and mentoring opportunities to younger females just starting their careers – at 8:00 in the morning, no less.
On Tuesday afternoon, the panel “Women In The Industry: Breaking Barriers and Balance” was one of the most buzz-worthy panels of CRS, masterfully moderated by Scripps VP/Programming and Market Mgr. for the company’s Wichita cluster Beverlee Brannigan who, the next day, was my co-moderator for the Tim McGraw interview and frankly the rudder of that planning process. But back to the “Woman In The Industry” panel – Briana Galluccio, Editorial Assistant for All Access Nashville, was there to cover the session, but was both moved and empowered by what she heard and saw. Briana is 23 years old and relatively new to the music business. This panel had a major effect on her, and seemed to verify the decision to pursue her career goals, while inspiring her to be a part of this industry long-term. Even if she’s the only young lady who felt that way about this session – and she’s not – then it was a complete success, in my opinion.
As for the female artists, is it just me, or does that pendulum I’ve previously referred to seem to be swinging in the right direction in terms of artist development and traction? As far back as January of last year, I talked about that in this very space, believing sometime in the next 18 months, the female artists would – and needed to – start thriving. This is not an “I told you so,” but I am happy to see real progress. With Cam and Kelsea both having #1 songs and being ACM Nominated, more females will hopefully break through. Personally, my money is on Maren Morris and Brandy Clark to lead the next wave in 2016.
But radio can and should be aggressive on this issue. During two panels at this year’s CRS, iHeartMedia Top 40 SVP/Programming and KIIS/Los Angeles PD John Ivey said he doesn’t understand why Country radio doesn’t employ a strategy that works in top 40: When the format collectively recognizes a glaring hole, they find what they believe in and force that issue, as a form of self-correction. Country does that so well for the most part, with CRS as the greatest example. But maybe it’s time for PDs to start filling that gap more, training listeners to accept and become passionate about female artists as a strong presence. Your stations have credibility, and listeners assume you know what you’re doing. By the way, there’s a term for what I’m talking about here – it’s called programming.
Congrats to the ladies of CRS 2016 – the panelists, the attendees, the artists – all of you. Your presence, your professionalism, your passion and dedication for this format and the overall industry was palpable this week and served as an inspiration for every other attendee, male or female. The week belonged to you.
Now here are some other memorable moments and people from CRS 2016 that are worth noting:
Barry Switzer. The equivalent of a photo bomber, but for an entire event attended by 2,500 other people. During the “Put Me In Coach” panel, the former Dallas Cowboys and Oklahoma University head football coach simply took over the room. You know that term, “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him?” Well, you can’t even contain Barry Switzer – and I mean this in a 100% positive way. He was funny, inspiring, motivating and – mostly – on point. During one segment of the panel – which I had the honor of moderating – Switzer talked continuously for 11 minutes, with no possible opportunity to jump in. And frankly, no need to, as he made points that complimented and paralleled the subject at hand.
As an example: “Evaluating talent is the key. And the talent has to fit within the team concept. It can't be a 'me' or 'I' kind of talent, because the team has to be about 'we' and 'us.’ We have to have guys who are unselfish. You can’t be a Johnny Manziel and be a turd – I said he was a turd four years ago and he hasn't let me down!”
Or this: “There’s no objective in pro football other than being in the Super Bowl. So everybody on that roster knows when they come at seven in the morning, they better be in that chair on time, because they know someone else is out there waiting to take their spot, who is 6’4” and 260 pounds who will throw their body around and cover kickoffs and play the position just like they would, if given the chance. So we have highly motivated players. Peer pressure is one of the greatest motivators in pro football.”
God, I hope we can get him back for CRS 2017.
Tim McGraw. He sat down with Beverlee Brannigan and me for an hour, during the session called “Evolving and Transcending.” Tim opened up a little and let us inside his world. My two favorite moments were Tim discussing his amazing physical transformation – the guy is incredibly fit, and that may be putting it mildly. And he gave us a candid glimpse as to why he turned to fitness as an obsession: “I was drinking too much for a while, My kids were getting older. You start thinking about mortality; I wanted to be healthy and be around for my kids; be a better husband and father; take care of myself mentally and physically, and get the most out of my career.” That moment coincided with a legal battle which threatened to sideline his music career indefinitely. “I wanted to control something, because I couldn't control anything about all the things that I had worked so hard for. So the first thing I could grab and control was my physical well-being.”
And we talked about fame, asking what it means and what you do with it after many years of being a famous person. Turns out, for he and his wife, Faith Hill, it’s a non-issue and something they haven’t given much thought. “We’re out of the spotlight more often than we’re in in it,” Tim explained, adding that they’ve never had any kind of sit down about fame with their three daughters. And here’s a back story to verify that non-obsession with fame: What was Tim doing that he had to interrupt so we could interview him? Was it a recording session, or a photo shoot, or jetting back from a concert date? None of the above. Nope. He was home making soup. And why wasn’t Faith in attendance for the CRS interview? As it turns out, she had a dentist appointment and didn’t want to cancel it. Neither of those things sound like the behavior of heat-seeking publicity chasers to me. #humbleandkind.
The UMG Ryman Lunch. The team at UMG has made this THE signature, most anticipated CRS music event other than New Faces. It is what the Sony boat was in its heyday ( Editors note: Sony discontinued the boat this year). With at least 16 artists on its roster performing – including its biggest stars like Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Keith Urban, and Chris Stapleton – all of whom play one song, this show moves fast, has star power, and is simply the most fun. How big and important is the Ryman lunch? Afternoon panels are pushed back to accommodate attendees’ return to the hotel.
Keith Urban. Accepting the CRS Artist Humanitarian Award for his numerous, unselfish charitable activities, Urban shared a story that I doubt many people had ever heard before, doing so in such a graceful, eloquent manner. He said when he was nine, his parents had joined a Country music club in Brisbane. “We lived in a rural town, and our house burned down, and we were all okay but we lost all our belongings – which wasn't much, but it was everything – and without hesitation the Country music club immediately held a fundraiser for us. It was so apparent to me right from age nine that this is what it's about, people fall on hard times, and people need help," said Urban. "Various causes need help and support, so I'm just extremely grateful that I've been given a chance to bring a spotlight; that my wife and I both have causes that mean something to us, and hopefully they can benefit from it. It's what I love to do more than anything."
Countless F-Bombs. Mostly from Warner Music Nashville Chairman John Esposito. There had to be dozens of them, all hilariously timed and perfect for each moment. This inspired more F-bombs from other attendees – including one onstage at New Faces.
Colonel Sanders. Ok, maybe not the REAL Col. Sanders, but somebody who looked and dressed exactly like the KFC spokesperson. I saw him around and then saw tons of pics on Facebook, with radio and label folks all grabbing a selfie. Does anybody know this guy? Whoever he was, he was a big hit.
Those are our winners from CRS 2016 – who are yours? Post a reply below or hit me direct here on email. I hope if you attended this year, CRS was a great experience for you.