Has it been too long since the dolphins made you cry? There’s an app for that, and it’s called the upcoming Hootie and the Blowfish reunion tour — previewed Thursday at a label showcase held at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Universal Music Nashville, which has made a solo country star out of singer Darius Rucker, had promised only that lone Blowfish for their annual Country Radio Seminar concert, but the assembled programmers and DJs couldn’t help it if they’re lucky, as it were.
“Remember when we used to play the Exit/In over there?” asked Rucker, reminiscing about humbler times at Nashville’s most venerable rock club. “I think I met a girl one night, and she gave me my tattoo.”
Now he’s a family man, and he’s added the rest of his once-and-future bandmates to the Universal family. They signed a deal last fall with Universal Nashville’s Mike Dungan to make their first studio album since 2005. Nothing has been announced about whether the record will come before or after their May 30 start date in Virginia Beach, but in lieu of a preview of any possible singles, the full house at the Ryman was perfectly happy to make do with “Hold My Hand” and “I Only Wanna Be With You.”
“We want to say a big thanks to Mike and everybody over at Universal for giving us a deal and letting us go through this one more time,” said Rucker, who also thanked Clarence Spalding, one of Music City’s most revered managers. “We’ve been a band since we were 18 and 19 years old, and we’re fiftysomething and fiftysomething right now, so it’s cool to be playing.”
The main draw of the “Team UMG” showcase each year at CRS is the unveiling of at least a few previously unheard upcoming singles, along with current radio hits, performed acoustically by the better part of the UMG Nashville roster. This year, Little Big Town, Keith Urban, Jon Pardi and Vince Gill all offered premieres of songs slated for their next releases. Among those performing tracks now at radio or at least out in the world were Chris Stapleton, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Jordan Davis and Maddie & Tae.
Little Big Town kicked off the show with a powerful new ballad addressing one of the perennially controversial topics in the country music industry: women. Among the lyrics: “Girl, shoulders back and stand up straight / Girl,watch your mouth and watch your weight… Girl, don’t be weak and don’t be strong… / Pose like a trophy on the shelf / And dream for everyone but yourself / I’ve heard of God the son and God the father / I’m just looking for a God for the daughters.” The song is clearly a heavy one, but wasn’t without one moment of proud levity: “Wash the dishes, feed the kids and clean up all this mess / Do my best, forgive myself and look good in this dress / Damn, I look good in this dress,” Karen Fairchild sang.
Pardi’s new one, from a forthcoming third album, was very much on the lighter side, with the wait-for-it-you’ll-get-it title “I Want Tequila Little Time With You.” Urban got lost in a romantic reverie, as he will, with “We Were,” which is hot off the presses enough that he had to stop because he’d forgotten the words. Gill returned to the venerating-women theme with “Letter to My Mama,” bringing on one of the program’s few spontaneous standing ovations.
Two freshman women were of particular interest to attendees with a rooting interest in seeing country radio cross even a 10-percent-female threshold again someday. Already a favorite among some radio folks despite not having a full-length album out yet, Kassi Ashton sang “Pretty Shiny Things,” similar in feminist theme to the Little Big Town song — right down to using the phrase “stand up straight” as an ironic admonition — albeit with a younger spin. On view to programmers for the first time, Caylee Hammack went for a more high-spirited, pleased-to-meet-you approach with the rollicking “Family Tree.”
Superstars from the roster not present were George Strait and Kacey Musgraves. The latter Grammy winner was in Los Angeles doing a pair of sold-out shows. In the past, Musgraves has played at the UMG showcase and brought the house down, only to get a modest number of spins that were hardly commensurate with the reception she got in person from the CRS crowd. She and country radio may not be done with each other, though. Quick-witted show host Royce Risser, Universal Nashville’s promotions director, mentioned at the show that Musgraves’ just-released radio single, “Rainbow,” has gotten a promise of 80 adds in advance of its official add date.