A trio of up-and-coming country singers, Josh Kelley, Ashton Shepherd and Randy Montana, performed what Montana described as a traditional Nashville "guitar pull" last night as local station WQMX hosted a wonderful evening of music at the beautiful Tangier in Akron, Ohio. All three singers were onstage at one time, taking turns performing their own songs in front of an appreciative crowd.

What was interesting was how distinctly the three artists' personalities revealed themselves early in this performance. Kelley, starting a country career after having quite a great deal of success as a pop-soul performer, was the ringleader and uncontested "ham" of the evening.

Each of the trio brought one member of his or her band to accompany their performances, and Kelley's impressive guitar skills (Montana was clearly watching his rhythms and frettings very closely) were augmented by a bass player as opposed to a second guitarist, giving his songs extra depth. In particular, the performance of his new single, 'Georgia Clay,' got the crowd riled up.

Shepherd was, to put it mildly, a chatterbox, in a completely charming way. If for some reason you didn't know she was from Alabama, she announced it every 10 seconds by way of a geographic reference or by using a word like "hisself." She took several shots at her guitar playing relative to her onstage peers, which was unnecessary because her songs, such as 'Sounds So Good,' sounded, well, really good.

The highlight of the night, though, was Randy Montana, who had the richest voice and the most relaxed, confident stage presence of the bunch, despite his young age. In between ribbing Kelley about alleged illegal downloading, he delivered strong performances of recent singles 'Ain't Much Left of Loving You' and '1,000 Faces,' as well as songs from his upcoming debut album.

The night would have benefited from more interaction between the artists during the songs themselves, but since this is a one-night event rather than a tour, it seems few pre-arrangements were made, so the other singers watched along with the rest of us as each performer took his or her turn. Still, it was a blast to see three different styles blend together for such a special performance.

Photos by Amy Weiser.

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