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Event Review: WCTO Cat Country 96 Stage At MusicFest
Up-And-Coming Nashville Label Acts Featured at MusicFest
By Anne Freeman, The Aspiring Songwriter®
(more articles from this author)
2002-09-22
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On the historic mountaintop of Bethlehem, PA, WCTO Cat Country 96 FM and concert promoter Pat Garrett hosted the Country show at the annual MusicFest on Saturday, August 3. It was a swelteringly hot day, but the setting in the old Moravian part of town was beautiful for a music festival. Thankfully, the music and show was worth the suffering! It all began with the Cat Country 96 "Hometown Hoedown Challenge" featuring six area Country acts who competed in front of a panel of seven Nashville record label reps. Following the Challenge, we enjoyed a great evening of music from up-and-coming Nashville label acts.

Three acts graced the stage in a Nashville-style songwriter showcase: James Otto, David Nail and Anthony Smith. All three singer/songwriters were recently signed to Mercury Nashville and have singles released to radio. They sat on a stools lined up across the stage with acoustic guitars, taking turns performing their original songs and showing off their vocal chops, which were substantial. James Otto's performances included his first single, "The Ball" and one of his current favorites that he wrote, "Misspent Youth," both found on his debut CD to be released this fall. Otto has a deep, strong voice that can stand up to the Southern Rock flavored arrangements that will be featured on his new CD. This is someone whose music you'd want to hear in a dance club, for sure, including his gospel-tinged "slow dance" songs like "Never Say Goodbye." Hear some of Otto's music at www.james-otto.com.

David Nail made sure to include his debut single, "Memphis," which hit the airwaves in mid-May, along with songs like "See Me Through," "Why" and "Seattle," all which will be featured on his upcoming Mercury release. Nail is very much a New Country artist, and his softer, young romantic sound played nicely against his rough and tumble singing partners on the stage that night. You can sneak preview his songs on www.mercurynashville.com.

Anthony Smith sang his debut single, "If That Ain't Country," along with other songs he co-wrote made famous by the likes of George Strait ("Run") and Trace Atkins ("I'm Trying"). My personal favorite is "Who Invented The Wheel." It's one of those songs that you just can't get enough of. Smith's debut CD, If That Ain't Country," is set to be released in August. His gravelly voice has range and style, with some hard-edged Bluesy-Folk underpinnings. From his performance, I'll sure be looking for it! Visit Anthony at www.anthonysmith.com.

The show gave us a taste of Nashville's rich songwriter scene as we listened to their songs, their stories and the bantering between them. Each of these fine singer songwriters are taking their shot at the brass ring. We wish them the best!

MCA Records act Shannon Lawson was a surprise guest. He had a three-piece acoustic set-up, with Shannon on acoustic guitar, an acoustic bass guitar player and fiddle/banjo/mandolin player, who was excellent! I saw Shannon perform with a full band at the Country Radio Seminar down in Nashville this past February. He put on a great show then, and I was surprised to hear just how full his sound was with only three acoustic instruments. Shannon combines Bluegrass, Blues and New Country for a sound that is very much his own. His strong, masculine tenor works perfectly for his material and he seems comfortable in all three genres. Even though his set moved around from style to style, Shannon kept the Bluegrass underpinnings in his arrangements, providing a comfortable continuity to his program. Some cuts he performed off of his debut CD, Goodbye On A Bad Day," included the title cut, the fun-loving "Bad, Bad, Bad," the sexy "Who's Your Daddy," a surprising Bluegrass-tinged rendition of the R&B classic, "Let's Get It On," along with some Old-time Bluegrass standards. If Shannon gets his shot at radio long enough for folks to find out about him, I believe he'll do just fine. After his show, numerous people approached me and asked if I knew who he was (I guess they figured I knew something because I was taking notes!) Shannon definitely made an impression on this crowd. Anyone interested in hearing Shannon's music can visit him at www.shannonlawson.com.

At this point, I was sitting near the stage, waiting for the headline act, Warner Brother's Blake Shelton, whose debut single was the smash "Austin." I noticed that an older gentleman had quietly set up a merchandise table next to the stage with Blake Shelton gear. He sat there in the withering heat and humidity, with a pleasant smile on his face. I figured he couldn't be a label guy – they would have had some young people sitting there – so I guessed that he might be a relative or personal friend of Blake's. I approached the table and introduced myself, asking how he got roped into that rotten job on a hot day like this. It turned out to be Larry Large, the man who discovered Blake and who is now in charge of his merchandize. Larry kindly agreed to a short interview:

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Larry, when did you first meet Blake Shelton?

Larry Large I first met Blake when he was 13 years old. He came down and auditioned at a theatre that we were playing at in Oklahoma, not far from where Blake lived. We put him on the show after we saw him. That's the first time that I saw Blake perform.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What did you think of Blake at 13? What made him stand out to you?

Larry Large He just had that stage presence at such a young age. He knew the songs, he was very comfortable, he wasn't nervous. He just had the certain something that's hard to describe.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] What were some of the big events that brought Blake from a 13-year-old on that stage to a Nashville record deal?

Larry Large Well, Blake entered some contests in Oklahoma, one of them being the Diamond Okalahoma Kids. Thousands entered that contest, and he won it. He just went from there. He became a member of the show we were on and played on it all the way through high school. He played at different places in Oklahoma, but he wanted to move to Nashville. So, my wife and I moved him down there two weeks after high school graduation.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Wow! I'm sure his family must have been pleased to know that family friends were moving with him!

Larry Large Oh, yeah. He's got a great family – they've been very supportive. But, it's been all Blake. He's had the determination to tough it out. It's very difficult, but he's 26 years old now, so there are no overnight successes! (Laughter!)

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Larry, I saw Blake perform at the Country Radio Seminar "New Faces Show" in February. He did an outstanding job. That must have been a big night for him, performing in front of all of those radio people.

Larry Large There have been a lot of big nights for Blake. Of course, his debut at the Grand Ole Opry will be a night that he'll never forget. His album (Blake Shelton) just went Gold, by the way, so he's very excited about that. In fact, in went Gold on the one-year anniversary of its release. He's happy!

[The Aspiring Songwriter] Larry, you mentioned that tonight is going to be a special night. Why is that?

Larry Large Blake's going to introduce a couple of new songs tonight at MusicFest that will be on his new CD. This will be their debut tonight. He wants to let everybody get a feel for what the new CDs going to be about. I'm looking forward to it.

[The Aspiring Songwriter] That's great, Larry. How exciting to be a part of that. Thanks so much for talking with me tonight. I wish you and Blake and everyone success.

Larry Large Thank you, Anne. Thank you for all of your support!

Blake Shelton sauntered onto the stage. Blake's New Faces show in Nashville had a laid back, acoustic feel to it. But at MusicFest, I saw a new side to Blake Shelton! I must tell you - don't let his pretty-boy face, long curly hair and "sensitive guy" first ballad fool you – this man kicks some serious Country B*tt! His deep, strong voice is rich, fluid and flexible. Like the master Garth Brooks, Shelton is equally convincing with a down-and-dirty song and then transitioning into a "sensitive guy," and then hitting your heart with a powerful ballad. It's not posing, either. It works. Not many male artists can do that.

Blake's show was fun, completely entertaining, and it rocked! At 6'5" without the hat, he had a commanding stage presence, which he used effectively. Blake can work an audience. People laughed, responded and had a ball. I think I spend almost as much time watching the audience react to him as I did watching him! Everyone was moving, tapping their feet, dancing in their chairs, calling out – in other words, folks were definitely into it, young, old, men and women, and teens, too. This guy is really, really good. If you get the chance to see him live, do NOT pass it up! By the way, those debut songs that will appear on his next CD? When I heard the first one, I turned around to look at Larry Large. He was smiling when I gave him the thumbs-up. Resign yourself now to buying Blake Shelton's sophomore effort…when you hear those songs on radio, you will want it. Get to know Blake Shelton at www.blakeshelton.com. All in all, if the Cat Country 96-Pat Garrett show is an example of future Country shows at MusicFest, count me in to be there!


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