When you collect nearly a dozen of Nashville's finest female vocalists, there's bound to be some magic happening. As newly-minted UMG recording artist Mickey Guyton, Angaleena Presley (or "Holler Annie" as she is fondly known), Maddie & Tae and RaeLynn (among several other outstanding performers) met at a private gathering at the City Winery on Tues. (Nov. 4), the gathering crowd was treated to a truly mind-blowing experience. As most will know, radio has failed to develop female talent, outside of Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, and after 90 minutes of sizzling guitar, smooth stage presence and vocals for days, there really isn't any reason for the draught to continue.
Each and every performance contained the essence of what country music is all about: emotionally-driven storytelling. Whether it was a head-bobbing good time (during Maddie & Tae's "Girl In A Country Song") or gushing, unbridled tears (while Guyton herself overflowed on the last lines of "Better Than You Left Me"), there was something to touch each person's heart.
Natalie Stovall & The Drive (whose trademark is "Peace Love Fiddle") set the bar high as the rockin' opener with "We Are." As the slender powerhouse touched each note with conviction, it was evident she was there to make us true believers.That was only the beginning: Presley (with the gritty "Pain Pills"), Kelsea Ballerini (the charming "Stilettos") and Kelleigh Bannen (with the Nicole Galyon and Lize Rose penned "Church Clothes") quickly followed. Each performance raced by with break-neck speed, and proved Music City is rich with voices itching (and wholly aching) to be heard. Guyon's haunting performance of her new single (set to officially land in the new year) "Better Than You Left Me" had the crowd screaming her name, as she hid her tear-stained face as the song's last line barely escaped her lips. She choked back the tears, apologetically, but that didn't matter. The crowd only rallied behind her even more. If there ever was a female singer deservedly destined to become the Next Woman Of Country, it would be the lovely and talented Mickey Guyton. Of course, every woman on that stage offered up their own delicious version of country and have earned their rightful spot. The Voice alum Raelyn, wide-eyed and blushing, took the stage next with her Top 20 hit single "God Made Girls," followed by Maddie & Tae and their singature "Girl In A Country Song."
In a surprising twist, legendary singer-songwriter Jewel came out in an eye-popping blue gown to offer a bit of advice for this year's crop of talent. Stepping into role as mentor for the franchise, she was pretty frank in her assertions. "You have to know the business to protect your art," she said, adding, she's always maintained to "make my life my best work of art."
If you glance over at Country Aircheck this week, only six female voices (groups/duos included) even crack the Top 30: Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman (of Little Big Town with "Day Drinking" at No. 5), Maddie & Tae (at No. 7), Underwood (with "Something In The Water" at No.12) and RaeLynn (at No. 22). It's a jarring reality, not completely lost on Jewel, who is somewhat of a cross-over outsider in recent years. "Our viewpoint is just as valuable [as men]," Jewel pointedly stated, concluding her bullet-point speech to thunderous applause. And then it was back to the celebrate the music!
Performances from Lindsay Ell (quite the slicked-back accomplished musician on her new single "Shut Me Up," which featured a lengethened guitar intro), Jana Kramer (a powerful nostalgic piece "I Got The Boy, She Got The Man") and Brandy Clark-standin and songwriter Shane McAnally rounded out the day. "I was worried about attending this event, but then I thought, my friends would say 'well…it's close enough," McAnally said, eliciting chuckles from the audience.. After a few kind words about Clark (who could not attend due to illenss), he lauched into a soulful take of "Follow Your Arrow," which is up for this year's Song Of The Year honor at the CMA Awards.
Many of last year's honorees, including Lauren Alaina, Danielle Bradbery, Kristen Kelly, Cassadee Pope and Sarah Darling, were also in attendance. The unconditional support was palpable in the room: even Alaina threw in a cute whistle to her good friend Kramer before her set.
Of course, the morning couldn't have been nearly as enjoyable without the esteemed hosts Leslie Fram (Senior VP Of Music Strategy of CMT) and Lee Ann Womack, who may know a thing or two about being a struggling female. Pop mastermind Gavin DeGraw was onhand to introduce the event, which also included sound bites from UMG's Mike Dungan, Black River Entertainment's Gordon Kerr and Dot Records' Chris Stacey.
The taped performances are set to run on all CMT, CMT Pure and CMT.com platforms later this month.
[Check out a slew of photos from the event right here.]
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