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Keith Urban + UMG Nashville Artists Rock the Ryman at 2016 Country Radio Seminar

Rob Kim, Getty Images
Rob Kim, Getty Images

Keith Urban and a who’s who of artists from Universal Music Group Nashville turned in one home run after another at a private showcase at the Ryman Auditorium during the 2016 Country Radio Seminar on Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 9).

CRS is an annual event in Music City, bringing together artists, radio programmers and journalists from around the country for a week of showcases, lectures, interviews and promotional events that set the agenda for the entire country music industry for the year. The industry-only showcases are high-stakes performances for the artists, giving them an opportunity to present their latest material to a cross-section of tastemakers all at once.

Little Big Town kicked things off, performing a new song titled “The Beginning,” which celebrates people who have hung in with you from the start. They dedicated the simple, heartfelt acoustic tune to their assembled radio friends, who have given them the biggest year of their career in the last 12 months with the runaway success of “Girl Crush.”

Kacey Musgraves demonstrated once again why she’s one of the coolest artists in country with the retro-hip groove of “Late to the Party,” which may be the most radio-ready song she’s yet had to offer, while David Nail came out of diaper duty after the recent birth of twins long enough to preview a new song  titled “Fighter,” which he wrote for his wife while they were going through the process of trying to have children. He told the crowd it would be the title song of his next album.

Kip Moore turned in one of the most impassioned and strongest vocal performances of the afternoon with “Running for You,” and Eric Paslay showed a new playful side — as well as some jaw-dropping dance moves — with a high-energy performance of “High Class” that drew a standing ovation from the seasoned crowd.

Chris Stapleton has had one of the biggest breakout years in country music memory, and he floored the room with an acoustic performance of a song called “Either Way,” which showed off some scorching high notes and may appear on the follow-up to his acclaimed debut album, Traveller. Lauren Alaina drew laughs for her honesty in introducing “Doin’ Fine,” a new song that explains her absence from the business. Over the past couple of years, her parents divorced, and her mother ended up marrying her father’s best friend.

“I used to call him Uncle, and now he’s my step-dad, so there’s the fun fact of the day,” she quipped, adding, “My dad married a 28-year-old, and she’s super hot, so it’s good.” The song takes Alaina to the next level, mingling a very personal message about accepting family and life’s unexpected turns and a vocal performance that shows off her impressive range.

Vince Gill drew a thunderous ovation from the hardened industry crowd simply for stepping onstage, before he even played a note. The icon was slated to perform his new single, “Take You Down,” which features Little Big Town. “We’re starting a new group and calling it LGBT,” he joked. “We’re gonna find a pretty cool audience.”

Inspired by Stapleton’s performance — which he watched from the wings like an enthusiastic fan, as he did with most of the performances Tuesday — Gill instead chose to play an emotional song he wrote as a tribute to George Jones titled “Sad One Coming On,” which drew another standing ovation.

Luke Bryan gave an unexpectedly musically nuanced performance with “To the Moon and Back,” which featured him seated at the piano and whipping into some pretty fancy work on the keys. Urban wrapped up the festivities, following a strong acoustic performance of his current single, “Break on Me,” with an off-the-chain performance of “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” for which he switched off from bass during the body of the song to electric guitar at the end, ripping the Ryman up with an unhinged-but-still-musical solo that featured wah-wah pedal, funky chording and mingled with a call-and-response singalong from the crowd.

It was the high point of an afternoon filled with high points, and from the look of the showcase on Tuesday, country music is headed for another really big year of exciting music in 2016.

Keith Urban + More Albums We Can’t Wait for in 2016

NEXT: Keith Urban Pays Tribute to Glenn Frey

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