Walker Hayes cemented his position as one of the most important rising artists in country music with a killer performance at the 2022 CRS New Faces of Country Music show in downtown Nashville on Friday night (Feb. 25).
The singer delivered a set that was equal parts progressive and classic country, kicking off with “Drinking Songs” and running through his current single, “AA,” as well as his career-altering hit from 2021, “Fancy Like.”
Hayes possesses an Everyman quality that’s one of the keys to his appeal, and his hook-laden, tightly arranged songs tend to stick instantly and stay with the listener. That juxtaposition is a winner, and it made his set one of the most enjoyable of the night, but the highlight of his set was actually a song that cut against the grain of the rest of his material. Hayes accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and displayed well-developed fingerpicking chops when he closed his set with “Briefcase,” an emotional ode to his father.
Lainey Wilson was another highlight of a night filled with highlights. The breakout country star took the stage clad in her trademark bell bottoms after a hilarious intro video that featured cameos from Hardy, Cole Swindell, Jimmie Allen and Tracy Lawrence, launching her set with the opening acapella vocal intro to Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” before segueing into “Straight Up Sideways.”
She also performed her breakthrough hit, “Things a Man Oughta Know,” before closing her show with what she announced as her next single, “Heart Like a Truck.” Wilson gave an exuberant stage performance that displayed a natural command of the stage, and the battle-hardened crowd of industry insiders gave her an exceptionally warm reception.
Parker McCollum and his arena-ready band delivered an exceptionally strong, very tight set of rock-leaning country songs, beginning with “To Be Loved by You,” one of the evening’s strongest individual songs. He followed up with “Pretty Heart” before stripping things down for a heartfelt performance of “Hell of a Year,” but the highlight of McCollum’s set was undoubtedly his closing song. “I Can’t Breathe” is a slow, heavy ballad that leans heavily into his emotional vocal delivery, and McCollum’s powerful performance earned him a standing ovation from the assembled radio executives and music business movers and shakers. McCollum is slated to tour with Thomas Rhett in 2022, but it’s not hard to predict he’ll be headlining arena shows of his own in the next few years.
Gabby Barrett has certainly grown since her first CRS appearances after her run on American Idol in 2018. Not only has she scored several massive hits at country radio, but she’s also gained new confidence and poise on stage and that was evident in her performance on Friday night.
Barrett came out rocking with”Jesus and My Mama,” and she performed “The Good Ones” and “Pick Me Up” before she and her husband and guitarist, Cade Foehner, ratcheted back the pace to deliver an acoustic rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” Barrett has even greater range and control over her extremely powerful vocal instrument than she did a few years ago, and she showed it off to maximum effect on the heartfelt hymn before closing her set with her career-launching hit, “I Hope.”
Jameson Rodgers gave one of the most high-spirited performances of Friday night, opening with his rollicking “Cold Beer Calling My Name” and running through “Some Girls” before offering up a cover of one of his own hits as a songwriter, Chris Lane’s “I Don’t Know About You.”
Rodgers showed off not only his own vocal skills, but his entire band’s when he borrowed the harmony vocal intro from the Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road” to open his final song, “Missing One.”
The 2022 CRS New Faces of Country Music show took place at the Broadway Ballroom of the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville. The annual showcase for country’s hottest rising stars has become a rite of passage for most of the biggest future artists in country music over the decades. The show closes out the Country Radio Seminar every year, an industry-only event that brings together radio programmers from all over the country, labels, publicists, artists and journalists for three days of conferences, performances, meetings, interviews and panels that help set the agenda for the rest of the year in country music.
PICTURES: See Inside the 2022 CRS New Faces of Country Music Show
The 2022 Country Radio Seminar culminated with the CRS New Faces of Country Music show on Feb. 25. Gabby Barrett, Walker Hayes, Parker McCollum, Jameson Rodgers and Lainey Wilson all took the stage in a diverse lineup of the most up-and-coming artists in contemporary country music.