While this event regularly features performances by Nashville's most popular acts, the event's program planners have increasingly highlighted the men and women behind the famous songs.
That enabled radio programmers and industry professionals to hear top song crafters Bruce Robinson, Troy Jones, and Rodney Clawson crank out some of country music's hottest tunes.
With little more than some acoustic guitars and modest sound equipment, the venue resembled an intimate evening at the Bluebird or the Mercy Lounge in Nashville than one of the usually raucous CRS performance lineups.
Clawson began with "Sweet Southern Comfort," the hit for one-time Nashville Star winner Buddy Jewell. Robison chimed in with "Angry All the Time," giving it a more introspective and moody feel than Tim McGraw's version. Jones performed his version of "Shade," recorded by Joe Nichols, and the current Kenny Chesney/George Strait smash, "Shiftwork," which seemed especially crafted for Chesney.
Robison looked every inch the brooding artist-songwriter, preferring to play newer songs than his more famous cuts. His take on George Strait's "Wrapped" had a soulful, pop flair, thanks to his plucky guitar rhythms and grainy vocals. His muted performance of "Travelin' Soldier," a hit for the Dixie Chicks, was beautiful and poignant, bringing the murmur of the industry crowd to a near silence.
Clawson, arguably the best vocalist of the night, turned in solid runs of his Jason Aldeen hits, "Amarillo Sky," and "Why." However, it was his rocking turn on "Johnny Cash," that proved a highlight of the evening. One ear marker of a great song is that it still sounds tight, even when stripped of any extra instrumentation. "Cash" had plenty of groove and attitude to keep the CRS attendees singing along.
As all of the songs were backed only by an acoustic guitar and occasional harmony, they sounded much more subdued and relaxed than their polished radio counterparts. With little patter between songs, it is clear that these guys are more comfortable with a pen and paper than a microphone. Overall, the actual performances may not have been so memorable, but the songs sure were.