Part live thank you note and part awards show, the annual event is always one of the most anticipated CRS events with performances by rising artists who were voted on by country radio professionals from around the world as the format’s stars of tomorrow. The 2018 headliners were Lauren Alaina, Luke Combs, Midland, Carly Pearce and Michael Ray. Between performances, the 2018 CRS/Country Aircheck Awards were presented, recognizing top country radio professionals and stations of the year.
Alaina and Pearce each stole the show, delivering the night’s most moving performances. Pearce kicked things off, delivering four songs from her debut album Every Little Thing. She stomped out imaginary footlights while singing her sultry new single, “Hide the Wine,” and gave a soul-baring performance of the No. 1 title hit.
“I think about how in 12 months you came together and got behind a song about a guy who broke my heart,” Pearce told the crowd. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for changing my life. I’m so grateful.”
A video before Alaina’s performance showed the crowd of industry professionals the powerful impact of supporting women musicians. In one scene, Alaina was live onstage sharing the spotlight with a little girl singing all the words to her first No. 1 “Road Less Traveled.” In another scene, Alaina’s hugging throngs of adoring female fans who will love her no matter what. Then there were clips of her singing in front of a packed audience at Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Alaina was one of the show’s final performers, and it’s a good thing, too, because it’s not easy following her powerhouse vocals. When she took the stage, she blew the room away singing empowering lyrics that any artist would dream of calling their own. In her opener “Three,” she sang, “A lot of miles, a lot of tears / You’ve given me some of my best years / There’s so much I had to miss out on / Six years of missing home for three minutes on the radio.” She soared through her latest single “Doin’ Fine,” and breezed through Kane Brown’s parts on their No. 1 collaboration, “What Ifs.” Then she left everyone in the hall paralyzed in wonder when she closed with “Road Less Traveled.”
Michael Ray premiered “Her World Or Mine” from a forthcoming album in the works and entertained with his breakout songs “Kiss You in the Morning,” “Think a Little Less” and “Get to You.”
Always hysterically irreverent and fashionably dressed, Midland’s Jess Carson, Cameron Duddy and Mark Wystrach displayed their honeyed harmonies on “Make a Little,” “Burn Out,” “Gator Boys” and “Drinkin’ Problem.”
Coming off two sold-out shows at the Ryman Auditorium, Combs condensed his regular set to “Honky-Tonk Highway,” “When It Rains It Pours,” “One Number Away,” “Hurricane” and an abbreviated version of Brooks & Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.”