Thomas Rhett led a family style guitar pull at the 2021 virtual Country Radio Seminar, capping an hour-long acoustic set of tunes and tales with an emotional father-and-son moment — one that spoke to the power of a song.
Taking part in this year’s edition of Bob Kingsley’s Acoustic Alley, Rhett was joined by his father, hit songwriter Rhett Akins, and fellow tunesmith Parker Welling for the performance. Together, the pair offered up intimate renditions of 12 country favorites, celebrating the craft of songwriting for radio pros all around the nation. And for those watching at home, it felt like being part of their inner circle.
TR kicked the event off with his current single, “What’s Your Country Song,” delivering a rootsy version of the reference-heavy anthem that’s currently inside country radio’s Top 10 — but it wasn’t long before attention turned to the stories behind the songs.
Welling told a tale about writing Russell Dickerson’s “Blue Tacoma,” and how her grandmother wondered why she didn’t write it about a Nissan — since her granddad had worked for the automaker for many years. That kicked off a playful back-and-forth that had all three laughing, busting each other’s chops and occasionally playing a self-penned tune … that just so happens to be a Number One hit.
Akins would razz his multi-Platinum selling son with memories of what he was like as a youngster, and then punctuate the story with a 25-year-old track like “That Ain’t My Truck” — now a timeless example of Akins’ vivid writing style. Likewise, TR would give it right back, complimenting both his dad’s writing in the ’90s and the starched blue jeans he used to wear.
TR got another fatherly scolding for not inviting his dad to write the reflective coming-of-age ballad, “Sixteen.” And both Akins and Welling complained loudly about TR’s practice of inviting writers to join him on tour to write songs before shows — but insist that the bus’ air conditioning be turned off to do it.
“I’m convinced that songs are written better, and faster, that way,” he said in defense, just before Akins launched into the rollicking Jon Pardi smash, “Dirt On My Boots.” All through the show, the friends — who met when TR and Akins signed Welling to their Home Team Publishing lineup a few years back — talked gratefully about how country radio had changed all their lives. Akins, for one, had at least one song on every weekly radio chart for 10 years straight at one point, and we all know TR is one of country’s hottest recording artists. But Welling got to celebrate her first Number One more recently, with another Dickerson hit on the romantically charged “Yours.”
Later on, Thomas Rhett shared a track from what will eventually become his fifth studio album, bringing listeners even deeper into his daily life with the heartfelt “Growing Up.” Explaining that 2020 found him growing up more than ever before, and become much more responsible since as a first-time full-time dad to three kids, the tune was peppered with gratitude and what felt like real-life observations, and that vibe led to a sincerely mushy moment.
Going off script to play a song that he said represented “some of [our] best song crafting,” Thomas Rhett launched into a surprise rendition of a tune filled with fatherly love — the lump-in-his-throat “Things Dad’s Do.” After warning he’d probably need to leave the room before his son started, Akins sat and listened to line after line of homespun recollections about ways a dad will shows his kids a love that’s sometimes hard to express — even to the point of embarrassment — which finishes off with TR’s realization that he’s now doing the same with his own children.
It was all too much for Akins, who clearly couldn’t contain his pride any longer. He walked over and gave the young hit maker a big bear hug as soon as the song ended, smiling from ear to ear and wiping a few tears away. TR did the same, and although the trio played another round before the set’s end, it was emotional high of the night. All three showed off the songwriting heart that makes up the core of country music, and made a thought-provoking point along the way: The family that sings together, stays together.
The 2021 Country Radio Seminar continues through Friday (February 19), with more coverage to come.