Country Radio Seminar, an annual convention that aims to educate and promote country music with an emphasis on country radio, returned to Nashville on Monday (March 13). The three-day event featured countless showcases and highlighted some of the best-emerging artists, alongside established acts, in the genre. Below, American Songwriter looks at some of the best moments from the 2023 edition.
Videos by American Songwriter
Videos by American Songwriter
Avery Anna at Amazon Music Country Heat Showcase
Avery Anna first rose to fame through a viral TikTok video of her singing in her bathroom. Her piercing vocals instantly grabbed the attention of a vast audience, that has yet to let her go. The same vocals were on display during Amazon Music Presents Country Heat showcase, as she took her place as “one to watch” in country music.
On top of singing her TikTok-assisted hit “Narcassist,” the Flagstaff, Arizona, native delivered a slowed cover of SZA’s No. 1 streaming song “Kill Bill.” The emotions present in the lyrics were made all the rawer when paired with a simplistic piano track. Anna’s voice brought an entirely new energy to the mammoth hit. – Alex Hopper
Lainey Wilson Sings “Fat Bottom Girls” at her After-Hours Celebration
Lainey Wilson greeted the audience at her after-hours celebration at CRS with a playful Queen cover. Wilson is known for a few things: her signature bell bottoms, her twangy vocals, and her “big a**” (her words, not ours!). All three were on display at CRS when she came out singing “Fat Bottom Girls.” On top of just being a killer performance that showed off the rockier tones in Wilson’s voice, it was a testament to Wilson’s sense of humor.
She pulled the slowly amassing crowd to its feet singing the chorus: You give it all you got / Fat bottomed girls / You make the rocking world go ’round. Wilson’s vocals are endlessly versatile. She made quick work of the Queen hit, proving once again why she is deserving of all the fanfare she’s been getting. – Hopper
Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley & More Sing “Purple Rain”
It was an all-star collaboration when all the artists who performed at Team UMG at the Ryman Auditorium took the stage together to perform a spirited cover of Prince’s iconic, “Purple Rain.” With Darius Rucker taking lead vocals and Brad Paisley helming guitar, they were backed by a choir of Vince Gill, Sam Hunt, Caylee Hammack, Kylie Morgan, Josh Ross, Dalton Dover, and many others.
The song not only showed off Rucker’s vocal strength, but it also provided an opportunity for some of the up-and-coming artists on the label to shine, with Ross making the bold move of stepping up to the mic at one point to sing lead that showed off his range. Hammack also stood out as one of the background singers. It’s not every day you see superstar country artists and new acts uniting on an iconic song–it was certainly a highlight of Country Radio Seminar 2023. – Cillea Houghton
Sam Hunt Debuts New Song About His 2019 Arrest
Sam Hunt delivered one of the most honest performances of CRS when he took the stage at the Ryman during the annual “Team UMG” luncheon and premiered a new song that directly addresses his DUI arrest in November 2019.
Hunt introduced the performance by saying that signing a record deal when he was in his 20s can “stunt your growth to becoming the man you want to be.” He then launched into an acoustic song that features unflinchingly honest lyrics like the night I got locked up/ Everything went wrong / The night I got messed up / Should’ve just stayed home. It was one of the most memorable performances of the week and demonstrated Hunt’s ability to challenge himself as a songwriter. – Houghton
Jeffrey Steele Shares the Long Road to Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most”
Bob Kingsley’s Acoustic Alley featured several writers’ rounds where songwriters told the stories behind their hits. The most memorable moment came from Jeffrey Steele, who shared the unlikely road to “What Hurts the Most,” a song he wrote in tribute to his late father made famous by Rascal Flatts.
Originally written in 1999 in London with Steve Robson, “What Hurts the Most” was first titled “What Means the Most.” When Steele went into the studio to demo the song he wound up singing the wrong word and Robson assured him that’s what the song should be called. He played the song for everyone and people would tell him, “it’s a sweet song, but it’s four-and-a-half minutes long and it’s slow and depressing. And it’s never gonna get played on radio.”
Mark Wills would go on to record the song but never released it as a single. Faith Hill and Aerosmith were also in talks to record the song but it wasn’t until Rascal Flatts recorded it years later that the song came into the mainstream, hitting No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Adult Contemporary charts in 2006.
“It was a really long journey, and it made me the Songwriter of the Year,” Steele said. “So I got to go to a big show and who was getting inducted that night as the Icon of the Year, no other than Dolly Parton, my dad’s favorite singer.” – Annie Reuter
(Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)