Superstar Tim McGraw closed out the first day of the 2021 Country Radio Seminar on Tuesday (February 16), delivering the kind of live-streamed performance that would make any country fan miss the good old days.
Taking part in the the Amazon Music Country Heat showcase at the first-ever virtual version of the annual conference, McGraw was joined by up-and -comers Kameron Marlowe, Priscilla Block, Shy Carter, and Track45 — and he showed those hopeful stars how to make a virtual stage feel real. The CRS conference normally draws country radio professionals to Nashville from all over the nation, giving the genre’s gatekeepers a chance to meet new talent and make connections that will hopefully translate into radio play, and McGraw knows what that can lead to.
“My career got started in a big way many, many moons ago here at CRS,” he said in the middle of his set, thanking those watching from home for helping make him the most-played artist at country radio since his 1992 debut.
Onstage, McGraw showed why he’s been so dominate all those years. With a laid-back but razor-sharp performance, he skipped the mega hits entirely and showed he hasn’t lost his concert edge, even after a year without touring. In fact, McGraw was featured in live-stream appearances all through 2020, from awards shows to charity benefits and even his own live-streamed launch of the Here On Earth album, so the icon was in good practice at CRS.
Starting off with a relaxed, cruise-control run through “Shotgun Rider,” Tim McGraw looked both poised and totally at ease, leading a six-piece band from a glossy black sound stage. Dressed in his signature black cowboy hat and a blue sweater — plus the scruffy beginnings of his once trademark mustache — he delivered the tribute to feel-good love with his eyes closed and voice open, and then transitioned into a three-pack of songs from Here On Earth.
“7500 OBO” felt sexy but sad, as McGraw resolved to sell his prized truck (since every time he drives it, he can’t swerve around memories of his ex). The lucky-in-love “Good Taste In Women” pulled a contented smile from the star and a “Damn straight!” at its conclusion — surely a nod to McGraw’s wife, Faith Hill. And “Gravy” finished the concert with a moment of clarity, reminding listeners to appreciate life’s essential blessings, especially in troubled times.
It was enough to make those watching through a computer screen remember why live country music can be so moving, and McGraw’s young openers seemed ready to continue that legacy.
North Carolina native Kameron Marlowe showed off a deep, resonate vocal that sometimes recalled the playful side of Travis Tritt. He impressed for both sound and emotion on “Sober As a Drunk,” and his first radio single, “Giving You Up,” resolving to go cold turkey on love … but maybe not kicking the habit all together.
Likewise, Priscilla Block was delightful with the body-positive anthem “Thick Thighs.” A fun loving mantra that’s basically the exact opposite of a shallow, body-shaming “girl song,” it introduced Block as a singer with the confidence to be her full self, and she followed up with vivid scene setting on “Just About Over You.”
Meanwhile, Shy Carter used his turn to inspire positivity with “Good Love” and “The Rest of Us,” using a can’t-get-me down vocal to reach toward humanity’s goodness — rather than preach about it. He felt like an easy-going James Brown, full of energy and never stingy with a “Whooooo!” And then there was the sibling trio Track45, who started things off in loving harmony, and took listeners home to Mississippi to meet metaphorically meet mom and dad.
In the end, Tim McGraw might still be holding the torch as one of country’s brightest stars. But judging by this year’s Country Heat showcase, the genre’s next generation is warming up just fine. The 2021 Country Radio Seminar continues through February 19, with more performances and special events coverage to come.