Country superstar Garth Brooks has taken to making a radically different appearance each year at Country Radio Seminar, the annual Nashville gathering of country music’s radio and industry pros. Two Februarys ago, he played a bar gig for an invited audience of fewer than 200 at Layla’s on Broadway. Last year, Brooks went the opposite approach and performed for all conference attendees at the Bridgestone Arena.
For 2020, Brooks is taking a pendulum swing back in the direction of intimacy at CRS. The conference announced Wednesday that he’ll be one of about a dozen songwriters performing their hits acoustically at an annual showcase called “Bob Kingsley’s Acoustic Alley,” named for the late syndicated radio host. Normally, “Acoustic Alley” shows — which follow the rotating writers’ round format made famous by the Bluebird Cafe — are well attended but not especially difficult to get into for CRS badge holders. With Brooks taking part in a showcase that normally features non-household names, there may be a bit more competition at the door.
Brooks is set to lead his own round of yet-to-be-announced songwriters to cap off the event. Other writers already announced to take part in rounds earlier in the night include Rhett Akins, Natalie Hemby (recently more visible as a member of the Highwomen), seven-time ASCAP songwriter of the year Ashley Gorley, Jessi Alexander, Eric Paslay, Chase McGill, Neal Thrasher, Cary Barlowe and Jimmy Robbins.
“A special announcement will also be made from Garth Brooks during his round,” CRS said in teasing his appearance at the showcase, which will take place on Feb. 20, the second night of the conference.
Brooks’ interest in taking part in “Acoustic Alley” this year may involve a sentimental factor. It’s the first time the showcase named for the host of “Bob Kingsley’s Country Top 40” has been held since the National Radio Hall of Fame member’s death in October at age 80. “I have no doubt Bob will be with us in spirit, enjoying the music that he loved,” said his wife, Nan Kingsley.
Other major names in country have already announced appearances at the conference. Kelsea Ballerini will headline an opening night showcase sponsored by Amazon. UMG Nashville’s annual showcase at the Ryman the following afternoon will include Carrie Underwood, Sam Hunt, Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, Little Big Town and Jon Pardi. Kenny Chesney will do a concert set at a Warner Music-sponsored luncheon, in addition to receiving the CRS 2020 Artist Humanitarian Award. Big Machine’s luncheon will include performances by Florida Georgia Line and the label group’s newly signed Lady Antebellum.
Up-and-coming names announced to perform at various events during CRS include Ashley McBryde, Gabby Barrett, Morgan Evans, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack and Ingrid Andress.
On the speaking side, Eric Church will sit for a keynote Q&A. Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Rascal Flatts (who recently announced a farewell tour) are all scheduled for interview sessions as well during the Feb. 19-21 conference in downtown Nashville.