“Nashville’s” singing siblings Lennon & Maisy made a surprise appearance
The final night of CMA Music Festival brought truncated performances at LP Field due to storms looming nearby, but fans still got a great night of music with performances from Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, The Band Perry, Gary Allan, Jake Owen, Lee Greenwood, and a surprise appearance by adorable singing siblings Lennon & Maisy, who play Maddie and Daphne Conrad on the ABC drama “Nashville.” Charlie Daniels also surprised the crowd, taking the stage to perform with Paisley. (They are pictured together above.)
Backstage in the press room, where our intrepid intern Thomas Griffin has been busily jotting down country stars’ pearls of wisdom and humor over the festival’s four-day run, Paisley spoke about performing at the festival, saying, “It’s important to be here for the town [of Nashville]. Country music, more than any other music, has a town. This is the heart, this is the place.”
Underwood (left) also commented about the Festival, noting, “We’re the only genre that does this for our fans. Country music has the most loyal fans anywhere . . . It’s really great to see people come and make a week out of it.”
Paisley briefly addressed the controversy that blew up around his song “Accidental Racist” earlier this year, saying, “My fans have been great. I have so much love and support from them on it. When you’re going to bring up topics and tackle certain things like we did, we expected to ruffle some feathers, but at the same time I stand fully behind what we did.”
The singer, who has been known to treat his touring partners to go cart outings, midnight movie screenings, among other adventures, joked that the plan behind his generosity is to “make it real hard for other headliners to show them a good time.”
Underwood commented about her recent one-song guest appearance with The Rolling Stones at a Canadian tour date, saying, “It was amazing . . . Getting there and seeing all the guys at sound check, goofing off, it was very surreal.”
The Band Perry (right) spoke about exploring the possibility of staging their own headlining tour after having opened for numerous other stars. Said the band’s Kimberly Perry, “We’ve gotten to be on all of our dream tours, and feel like now is the time to start dipping our toes into headlining tours.”
Speaking about the band’s latest album, “Pioneer,” Perry said, “We dug really, really deep on the tracks on this record. We challenge ourselves to grow the songs, and the songs challenge us to grow the show.”
Sisters Lennon and Maisy Stella (pictured during their LP Field performance below) spoke to the press corps about their first-ever CMA performance (“Truly amazing,” said Lennon), meeting fellow star Keith Urban (“a sweetie,” declared Maisy), and their newfound fame as “Nashville” cast members. “I was in so much shock,” said Maisy. “We’re not used to being stopped by people and being asked for autographs. It’s overwhelming, in a good way.”
Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis, who are now performing together as a duo called Grits & Glamour, spoke about the friendship they’ve forged by touring together. Said Morgan. “We’re very blessed to find somebody in this business that you can be this close to. This tour has allowed us to become really good friends.” Added Tillis, “We really understand each other in a way that’s rare. We find some of the same things amusing that maybe nobody else would get.”
Reporting by Thomas Griffin in Nashville.
“Duck Dynasty” cast makes a major announcement, and more guest stars turn up onstage
The stars of the hit A&E reality show “Duck Dynasty” made a surprise appearance on the CMA Music Festival’s biggest stage at LP Field in Nashville Saturday night, after announcing plans earlier in the day for the release of a Christmas album on Oct. 29. It will be cleverly titled “Duck The Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas.”
Publicity materials distributed by Universal Music Group Nashville promise the project will be a mix of music and the family’s “special brand of Southern, down-home sense of humor.” Some unnamed “special guests” will also appear on the project, being produced by famed country music producer Buddy Cannon, whose impressive resume includes work as Kenny Chesney’s longtime producer.
The Robertsons who, we’re told, “grew up singing in church,” are better know as the entrepreneurs behind the Louisiana based multi-million dollar Duck Commander sporting empire, which manufactures duck calls and decoys out of salvaged swamp wood, as well as hunting apparel, cooking products, DVDs, CDs and novelty items. A&E premiered “Duck Dynasty” last year and it quickly became a hit.
When they announced the album earlier in the day at Nashville’s Music City Center, complete with Christmas trees, fake snow and a human-sized snow globe, the family (pictured above) was reportedly mobbed with fans.
At a backstage press conference at LP Field Saturday night, the family’s Willie Robertson said of their success, “When you set out to do something, you don’t set out to fail . . . but seeing all the fans and all the people that watch the show, it’s surprising and humbling for sure.”
The “Duck Dynasty” stars weren’t the night’s only surprises. Also showing up unannounced to perform at LP Field was Lenny Kravitz as well as Jason Aldean (pictured together below), who performed with both Kravitz and Kelly Clarkson. Trisha Yearwood also joined Clarkson onstage during her set. Aldean and Clarkson sang their 2011 hit, “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” Yearwood joined her for a version of one of Yearwood’s husband’s biggest hits, Garth Brooks’ “Ain’t Going Down (Til The Sun Comes Up).” They are pictured performing together here, with Yearwood on the right.
Country Aircheck reports that Kravitz "completely lost the room with an extended jam on 'Let Love Rule.' As he exited, he fired double middle fingers over his shoulders at the crowd in frustration." See it for yourself here.
Back at the press conference, Keith Urban (pictured on the left during his LP Field performance) was asked about some planned collaborations on his next album “Fuse,” due out Sept. 10. He said, “Growing up playing in bands, I like creating ensembles, working with people. I live for that.”
Dierks Bentley also has a new album, “Riser,” coming in the fall, and he said of the project, “I kinda went into this record wanting to do something different.” The project’s debut single, “Bourbon In Kentucky,” he said, “signals a change of sound on this record.”
Earlier in the day, Bentley made a surprise appearance on the festival’s Riverstage, joining bluegrass band The Grascals during their set.
The previous evening, Little Big Town invited Sheryl Crow to join them on the band’s LP Field set, and at Saturday’s press conference Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman said of Crow, “She is the most generous, warmhearted, beautiful woman . . . That was a dream come true for us. She’s welcome on our stage anytime.”
Also at the press conference, Florida Georgia Line spoke about the fast-paced success they’ve enjoyed over the past year, including back-to-back No. 1 singles. Said the duo’s Tyler Hubbard, “It’s been a whirlwind, just to experience something we’ve dreamed of since we’ve [come] to Nashville. It’s just proof that we’ve got the best fans in the world.”
Additional reporting by Thomas Griffin in Nashville.
Sheryl Crow, Jason Mraz perform and chat with reporters
Day two of the CMA Music Festival brought even more surprises for fans attending the second of four evening shows at Nashville’s LP Field Friday. The previous night had brought unannounced appearances by Tim McGraw and Keith Urban during Taylor Swift’s performance, as well as Kenny Rogers and Kid Rock during the Zac Brown Band’s set. Last night’s surprises included Sheryl Crow (left) performing with Little Big Town, and Jason Mraz taking the stage during Hunter Hayes’ set to perform their collaboration “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me.”
In the backstage press conference, many of the artists performing that night took questions, including Crow, who spoke about her transition from pop to country music.
“I am a new artist here,” she said of her adopted format. “It’s the only place you can hear real songs about real people . . . I feel like this is where I belong.” She added, “I’ve been writing songs for 30 years, and I love that I’m excited about it again. This is the best songwriting I’ve ever done.”
As for her onstage partners that night, Crow said of Little Big Town, “They love what they do. They seriously rock [with] their throwback sound [and] their close-knit harmonies.”
Hayes spoke about how his duet with Mraz came about. (It’s featured on the country star’s new album, “Encore”). “We met at the Grammys,” he said. “I was always curious to see what Jason would do with something like this [song], and next thing I know I had tracks in my inbox, and they were vocal tracks from Jason.”
For his part, Mraz (pictured near right with Hayes) said he likes working with artists outside of his genre. “Musicality draws me to the artist first and foremost,” he said. “A lot of us in the pop scene live in our own bubbles and don’t interact with one another, so I like the kind of community in this [country] genre.” He added, “Music is our greatest weapon in the war against unhappiness.”
At the press conference, Kip Moore was given a plaque celebrating two million singles sold from his debut album, "Up All Night." At work on his next album, Moore said of the project, “This record, it still sticks to who I am as a person. I’ve grown as a writer, as an artist . . . I’ve never wanted to be one of those artists that knew what was coming.”
Moore (left), who is about to embark on a tour with Toby Keith next week, said of the country superstar, “I am the sponge of all sponges. Anybody who’s had a career as long as his is doing something right. I’ll be watching every show, picking up all the tricks of the trade.”
Also beginning work writing for their next album is Gloriana (pictured below), and backstage at LP field, where they performed the national anthem last night, the (now) trio’s Rachel Reinert said, “This past album, we made it when there was four of us, so this will be our first time to go through the creative process writing as a trio . . . It’s a little bit different for us, but it’s exciting.”
Added the band’s Tom Gossin, “I think it’s going to have a really fun theme, the way we live life, the way we cruise through life.”
Gossin, who is getting married in October, was asked how his wedding plans were coming along. He replied, “I don’t know. I live by a simple philosophy: happy soon-to-be wife, happy soon-to-be life.” Noting that he and his fiancée are using the same wedding planner as Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert had, he said he’s taking a pretty hands-off approach to the nuptials.
Reporting by Thomas Griffin in Nashville.
Singer invites his label staff to “get naked together and do a shot”
Nashville’s LP Field served as the setting for an afternoon industry party yesterday celebrating Blake Shelton’s two most recent No. 1 singles, “Over,” and “Sure Be Cool If You Did.” Among the guests making brief remarks was Keith Urban, who served as one of the publishers on “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” co-written by a writer—Jimmy Robbins—signed to Urban’s publishing company.
In another bit of inside Nashville business connection, Robbins recently produced four songs for RaeLynn, one of Shelton’s protégées from “The Voice” on NBC. “Sure Be Cool if You Did” is Robbins’ first No. 1 single.
One of the “Over” publishers spoke about how the song was an exercise in “forced patience.” Cut by Shelton in 2009, it was left off of two consecutive six song EPs released by Shelton before finally being including on his “Red River Blue” album, where it then had to wait in a queue to become the fourth single released from that project.
Shelton has enjoyed a string of seven consecutive No. 1 singles, and his record label president/CEO John Esposito of Warner Music Nashville, assured the crowd that current single “Boys ’Round Here” will be his eighth.
In his remarks, Shelton thanked the songwriters as well as the label promotion staff that works his record to radio. “You do everything,” he told the latter group. “Keith [Urban] can tell you this. You almost feeling guilty sometimes. Like tonight, I’m going to be out there on that stage [at LP Field] in front of all those people soaking up all the glory, and I had the easiest part of all of this.” Addressing the songwriters, publishers and label staff standing behind him, Shelton said, “It’s all these people on the stage and half the people in this audience that really make this happen and I love all of ya’ll for it.”
Shelton is pictured above performing at LP Field several hours after the party.
Producer Scott Hendricks, also a senior executive at Warner Music Nashville, has produced 51 No. 1 singles in his career, but called Shelton “The greatest artist I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” commenting on how “prepared” the singer always is in the studio. In a similar vein, Esposito said, “The greatest blessing in my music career is Blake Shelton.”
Esposito also read a characteristically funny text from Shelton sent to the label staff after one of his recent No. 1s. Wrote Shelton, “Good work my men. I can’t believe this. Let’s all get naked together and do a shot. Wait, let’s just do the shots.”
Acclaimed singer/songwriter’s debut solo single goes to radio in July
As part of the events surrounding the CMA Music Festival, noted Nashville singer/songwriter Chris Stapleton played an intimate brunch showcase for media at the office of his publicity firm yesterday. The Kentucky native, who moved to Nashville in 2001, showed off his extraordinary vocal abilities on three songs from what will be his major label debut album including first single “What Are You Listening To,” which goes to radio in July. One of the other songs he performed was a gentle jab at the head of his record label, Mercury Records, written after he was told to write more songs for the album.
His short set also included one of the four No. 1 hits he’s written for other artists, Josh Turner’s “Your Man.” Stapleton has also written chart toppers for George Strait, Kenny Chesney and Darius Rucker, and notched more than 170 album cuts by artists including Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley and Alan Jackson.
Before embarking on a solo career, Stapleton was the lead vocalist for Grammy-nominated bluegrass band The SteelDrivers, as well as lead vocalist for rock band The Jompson Brothers.
Singer says she still feels “blessed and honored to be on this stage”
Carrie Underwood was celebrated for her fifth anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry cast member Friday night at the Opry House in Nashville.
The country star closed the first of the Opry’s two evening shows by performing an extended segment of her songs. The audience also watched a video presentation highlighting her Opry performances over the past five years.
Said Underwood, “It’s so hard to believe it’s been five years, but what an amazing five years it has been. Just watching that video, I was getting a little teary-eyed, thinking about how I felt when all of that was happening. And I still feel that blessed and that honored to be on this stage.”
Opry VP and General Manager Pete Fisher presented her with a commemorative print marking the occasion, saying, “You are not only so good for country music, you are so good for the Grand Ole Opry, and you are so good for America. We appreciate all that you do.”
Fellow member Garth Brooks inducted Underwood into the Opry in May 2008 in front of a sold-out crowd. Her next appearances on the Opry are scheduled for July 5 and 6.
Underwood is pictured above signing autographs for fans after her performance, and posing with a stack of special 5th anniversary cupcakes from her favorite bakery.
Photos: Joel Dennis
Gary Allan, Ronnie Dunn play shows for fans, Taylor Swift talks new album plans
The CMA Music Festival kicked off this week in Nashville, and even before Thursday’s official start country artists were already busy with shows and fan club events.
Gary Allan invited his fans back onboard the General Jackson showboat again this year, and played a 90-minute set for a sell-out crowd of a thousand people. He’s pictured with them above.
While cruising up and down the river, his fans enjoyed dinner and a meet and greet with Allan, and got to take home professional photos with the star. Allan will play LP Field this Sunday night for the conclusion of CMA Music Festival.
(Gary Allan photo credit: Eric Adkins)
The following night, Ronnie Dunn surprised country music fans in downtown Nashville when he played a surprise, four-song set on the rooftop patio of Rippy’s Bar and Grill on lower Broadway, kicking the show off just as fans were departing the Bridgestone Arena after watching the CMT Awards. Dunn debuted four new songs: “Country This,” “Kiss You There,” “Cowgirls Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Peace, Love and Country Music.”
During “Kiss You There,” a flash mob took over Broadway for an impromptu dance. Watch a short clip of it here.
Inside Rippy’s bar, Dunn gave away over 1,000 hangover “cure” patches to CMA Music Festival attendees. Dunn is writing songs and working on a new album, expected in stores this fall.
(Ronnie Dunn photo credit: Jon-Paul Photography)
Finally the Festival kicked off officially on Thursday, with the first day’s activities culminating in the first of four nightly shows at LP Field. Among the surprises, Taylor Swift was joined onstage by Tim McGraw and Keith Urban to sing their hit “Highway Don’t Care,” and the Zac Brown Band was joined onstage by Kenny Rogers (pictured at right with Brown) and, separately, Kid Rock.
In a pre-show press conference, Swift said she’s just beginning to think about working on her next album. “All the anxiety is starting,” she said, “and when it starts the writing follows.” She also said she likes to write songs for two years between album releases, then generally throws out the first year’s batch of songs, which often sound too much like her last record. It’s the second year’s worth of songs, she said, that start to sound like the next record.
Noting that early in her career she was often asked if she was going to grow up to be a “train wreck,” Swift (pictured performing at LP Field) said at this point in her life, “I’m 23, and just trying to live my best version of 23.” For the superstar, that means, “rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, play lots of shows and try to be better than you’ve been before.”
Swift also spoke about her recent guest appearance at a Rolling Stones show, saying, “It was everything you think it would be, but better. They’ve been on this huge, heroic pedestal for so long for me.”
Luke Bryan revealed at the press conference that on his new album, due out Aug. 13, “I didn’t write a lot of the songs, maybe four or five of the songs on it . . . [But] I’m confident in saying I think every song, under the right circumstance, could be a single. It could have seven or eight singles. That’s my hope for it.” The project may also include a collaboration with rapper T-Pain, still under consideration.
Also at the press conference, Tracy Lawrence spoke about an allergic reaction earlier in the week that had him briefly hospitalized and unable to perform at his own fan club show (which has since been re-scheduled to Friday).
While not sure what triggered it, Lawrence said, “My face started tingling. I looked in the mirror and my lips had swelled up, and my cheeks had swelled up . . . My wife saw me and freaked out, and said I was going into anaphylactic shock. I had a CAT scan last week. I found a bump under my arm. It was nothing, but I had to drink the dye. Maybe that’s what caused it.”
Additional reporting by Thomas Griffin in Nashville.
“Dancing With the Stars” champs welcomed back to Tennessee
Recent “Dancing With the Stars” champ Kellie Pickler was welcomed back to Nashville this week with a party thrown in her honor backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, where she also performed on both shows that night. On hand for the June 4 festivities was her pro dancing partner Derek Hough, whose win with Pickler made him a four-time “Dancing With the Stars” champ.
The event was a family affair as Pickler’s husband and grandfather were also present, as was Hough’s older sister—one of his two siblings who reside in Nashville.
The reception was festively decorated, with each table holding a small mirror ball centerpiece surrounded by roses. A massive video screen showed a constant loop of Pickler and Hough’s best performances on the show, which often distracted Hough’s attention as Pickler answered questions during the interviews. Among the gifts Pickler received was a key to the city and—from her record label—a trophy case to hold the large mirror ball trophy she won on the show.
Clad in a skintight purple bandage dress and high heels, a delighted Pickler made a few remarks to the crowd before turning to the assembled media for interview opportunities, where she was accompanied by Hough (pictured with her below).
In her remarks, she said of Nashville, “The people here have been so good to me.” She added, “This year has been amazing so far, and I feel like we’re just getting started . . . I’m excited that we got to bring that shiny ball to Tennessee.”
Earlier in the night, Pickler opened the first of the two sold-out Opry shows with three songs, including her current single, “Someone Somewhere Tonight,” and discovered the first of the night’s planned surprises when the Opry audience held up “10” paddles reminiscent of those the judges use on “DWTS.” Said Pickler when she spotted the paddles, “That is so sweet. I wish y’all could’ve been the judges!”
She then answered a series of questions from the media. Here are some of the highlights.
On potentially performing on Broadway one day: “I would love to try Broadway. I look at someone like Reba who has done it all, and she’s a legend. You could only hope to accomplish this much of what she has. As long as my country music could always be there—because this is my No. 1 priority and passion—if the right thing came along on Broadway or TV or film . . . I would absolutely do it in a heartbeat.”
Added Hough: “Kellie [is] . . . incredibly charismatic and she’s an entertainer. I think whatever stage she’s on, whether it be Broadway or film, or TV, or ‘DWTS,’ or the Grand Ole Opry, she’s a great entertainer all around . . . She really is going to shine in anything she does.”
On her new single, “Someone Somewhere Tonight”: “I’m so excited about this new song. It’s so special to me . . . Every person in that song, in some way, I identify with from someone that I know. So every time I sing it, I see all these different people in my mind and it makes I even more personal. I love that it’s a real song. It’s about life, and I think most anybody could identify with it. I hope that everyone loves it as much as I do . . . And we’re gearing up to release the album this fall.”
Teasing the new music video she’s shooting this week for “Someone Somewhere Tonight,” in which Hough reportedly plays a role: “It will be very special and different than anything we’ve ever done, and I think it’s the first time it’s ever been done in country music.”
On whether she’d incorporate any of her newfound dancing skills into the staging for her next tour: “Maybe so . . . I’ve discovered a passion that I didn’t know I had, and Derek helped me discover that. I love dancing, and since the show’s been over, I’ve really had a hard time being still and accepting the fact that I’m never going to be out there on that dance floor again. It’s sad. It’s bittersweet, but hopefully I will find and other dance floor and another dance partner . . . Maybe I’ll be able to incorporate this into the music, because I love both.”
Hough on Picker’s bond with her fellow “DWTS” cast members: “Something about Kellie that I noticed, having been on many different seasons with different casts, she really set the tone backstage, behind the scenes with the cast members. She was always the first one to congratulate them and support them. She really set the tone of just being supportive, and not being so competitive . . . There was a great camaraderie between the cast members because of Kellie. She really made a big difference.”
On being at the Grand Ole Opry: “This is the biggest stage in country music and, in my opinion, the biggest stage in the world. My grandpa is standing behind you. We took our first trip to Nashville before I did ‘American Idol.’ We took a road trip here and got tickets to the Grand Ole Opry. Fast-forward a year later, I’m standing out there on the Grand Ole Opry stage, and I literally sat down in the circle when I sung my first song just to soak it up. I was like ‘This might be the first and last time I ever get to do this, so I’m going to milk it for everything it’s worth.’ So it’s always a special feeling anytime I’m out there.”
On what she took away from “DWTS” other than a passion for dance: “The spray tan [laughs]. It’s just now starting to flake off. But now I’m addicted. I got another one. Actually, I loved all the spray tans and costumes. It was really neat to just embrace the whole show and just lose myself in it. I think because I was open minded about everything, and just went in with a positive attitude, I fell in love with it. I learned so much and I made friends for life.”
Photos: Chris Hollo
about the blogger
Veteran entertainment journalist Phyllis Stark has been reporting extensively on the music industry for two decades. As a freelance writer, her work appears regularly in numerous publications and sites. She previously was Nashville Bureau Chief at Billboard magazine.