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Concert Review: Added: 05/04/04
95.5 WFMS - 10th Annual h.h.gregg Country Music Expo 2004
Day 1 – April 17, 2004
By. Vonna Rose Harrison – AngryCountry.com Staff Writer

Wow! How cool is it when you get to see country music stars for free! 95.5 WFMS presented the 10th Annual h.h. gregg Country Music Expo on April 17 and 18. The CME consists of two days of acoustic sets by some of Nashville’s rising new stars, successful songwriters, and big name stars to boot! WFMS gave away free concert tickets, but you could opt to purchase a Gold Circle reserved seat for $50.00, but what a bargain! With a line-up to rival the CMA’s and ACM’s red carpet, this year’s Country Music Expo was a phenomenal success.

The Indiana State Fairgrounds was the setting for the Country Music Expo and with the addition of the new Champion Pavilion; it made for expanded space for the crowds. Sponsoring the Expo this year were hhgregg, 8 Seconds Saloon, Budweiser, Buckaroo Boot Co, and Subway. In the Blue Ribbon Pavilion vendor area, hhgregg had wide screen televisions set up for those die-hard Nascar fans to view the race. 8 Seconds Saloon had a booth handing out tickets for a chance to win various prizes as well as running a mechanical bull booth where if you were brave enough you could hop on and ride. They even offered the opportunity to capture the moment on film and as such, was one very popular booth.

Additionally, there were food and jewelry vendors and this year, a Karoake booth for those wanting to show off their singing abilities. It was here that I discovered a man by the name of Jeff Hoover from Muncie, Indiana singing the Toby Keith tune, “Who’s Your Daddy”, he sounded so much like Toby, I thought they were playing Toby’s record for a moment and walked over to check it out. When I saw this guy standing up on the stage singing, I was amazed with his vocal abilities and took the opportunity to ask why he had never tried out for Nashville Star. According to Jeff, he has plans to do that very thing next year.

One of the best things about the Expo is everyone can visit the Autograph Ticket area and obtain a ticket for a chance at a Meet and Greet with one of the performers! This is a great opportunity for an up close personal moment with some country’s brightest stars. This is of course, is a very popular booth and first thing in the morning the line is endless.

Upon entering the Champion Pavilion you notice there are two huge screens at each side of the stage for those further back to get a close up view of each performer. The CME began with the Young Marines Opening Ceremony. And kicking off the show, the top three contestants from the Colgate Country Showdown were given a chance to prove why they should be winners. The first contestant up was Marcia Swank. One of the songs Marcia sang was “Be My Baby”, and unfortunately, she was not a strong singer. My suggestion to her would be to take some time to work on her vocals and try out again next year. Next up was Mark Bowling, and I have to say hands down, he was the winner from the moment he walked on stage. Mark sang a song he wrote for his son, “Live Like a Man” and not only was his song outstanding, his performance was as well. I think Mark needs to head to auditions for Nashville Star 3 next year. (I am trying to send you some talented people Tracy!) Last up was local group, Dagnabbit, they sang some original tunes, one being “The Yada Factor”, and I was ready to pull the plug as this song needs to be shelved permanently, enough said. Of course, in the end it was Mark Bowling who was declared the winner as I predicted.

Next on stage was Chef Scott Justvig from the Corner Gourmet, who gave a demonstration on the h.h. gregg Kitchen Stage before the WFMS morning show team, which consists of Jim Denny, Kevin Freeman, and Deborah Honeycutt arrived on stage. Joking around about Kevin not shaving his head this year, which he did after losing a bet with Jim Denny at last years CME, they said maybe Jim would have a possible “wardrobe malfunction” instead.

Then they announced the first performer, Curb recording artist, Rodney Atkins, whose current record “Honesty” is one of the finest records this writer has ever heard. I was completely taken by Rodney’s acoustic performance, with a voice so powerful and rich it pulls you in and melts you right where you stand. After thanking WFMS for playing his record, it was to the crowd’s delight; he blessed us with a spectacular and emotionally charged presentation of “Honesty”. I am very pleased to say he gained some new Indy fans as numerous people were asking me about him after just one song. Rodney is an amazing talent and this writer believes he has made a meaningful start to a long, successful career, as I was equally impressed with his breath-taking presentation of the tune “The Man I Am Today”. This is a song, he explained was written after hearing “Honesty” and it was well received by this Indiana crowd. After his performance it was also my pleasure to meet Rodney as he signed autographs at the Karma Music Store booth. My 11-year-old daughter Mariah was thrilled to meet him and he was especially sweet to her and I. I am not sure how many people were lined up, but he signed autographs and posed for pictures with each person. I stayed on hand for a few young ladies and gentlemen, who didn’t have a camera to capture this moment, and being who I am, I didn’t want them to miss out on having a photograph with this rising star. http://www.rodneyatkins.com

The next performer was Universal South recording artist, Amanda Wilkinson, embarking on a new solo career. Singing “Life is a Beautiful Thing” a song off her yet to be released record, Amanda amazed me with her crystal clear sound. With a hat set at a jaunty angle, a wardrobe for the best-dressed lists, Amanda exudes confidence and grace. Package this with remarkable vocals and she is sure to be a huge hit as a solo artist. Ending her set, Amanda thanked WFMS and the audience for showing support of the Wilkinson’s hit tune “26 Cents” and the crowd showed their appreciation clapping and singing along. http://www.wilkinsonsonline.com

WFMS DJ Darren Tandy introduced the next performer, BNA recording artist, Rachel Proctor. Rachel thanked WFMS for playing her song “Days Like This” and then proceeded to belt out this tune with her powerful voice emanating throughout the pavilion. Rachel then told us how she had wanted to get Martina McBride to record the song “Me and Emily”, but her record company wanted her to record it before singing this very emotional, touching song. This one was a definite crowd favorite and I was impressed with Rachel’s vocal abilities, as it was beautiful music to my ears. http://www.bnarecords.com/rp/rp.htm

Rushlow was next up and did an excellent all acoustic set beginning with their new single “Sweet Summer Rain”. Tim Rushlow asked the audience, “Are ya feelin’ good?” and they responded with a wholehearted Yes! To which he replied, “Hell Yeah, You look good!” Tim thanked WFMS and the fans and informed us that Rushlow has sold more records in Indianapolis than anywhere in the United States. The crowd cheered before they began to sing their hit single, “I Can’t Be Your Friend”. Before they exited the stage, they invited everyone to 8 Seconds Saloon that evening for the CME After Party so we could experience them “plugged in”. http://www.timrushlow.com

Returning to the stage we were presented with another demonstration by Chef Scott Justvig on the h.h. gregg Kitchen Stage. The anticipation was building for me as I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Big & Rich to the CME stage. And arrive they did, starting off with “Wild West Show”, their first amazingly unique single off their debut record “Horse of a Different Color”, due out May 4th. As they began to sing the cut “Real World”, it was humorous to see the reaction of people in the audience to this new country duo. It was glaringly apparent I am a fan of this new duo as I was singing along, not oblivious to the fact several people thought I had lost my mind. When they launched into “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” they asked for the audience to join in. I was thrilled to see the crowd starting to “get it” about these guys and noticed numerous members of the audience participating in the sing along. I am a firm believer that people want to hear something different than the same old mainstream country music today. We hunger for that slice of individuality that smacks us in the face, literally, and brings us a greater sense of satisfaction. Big & Rich do just that! Original, extremely talented and outrageously fun, Big & Rich are in their words going to be, ”Right there in your face for a long time”. http://www.bigandrich.com

After their amazing performance, it was time to talk about how Big & Rich were signed with Warner Brothers. WFMS’s own Mimi Pierce and J.D. Cannon, joined several executives, notably Warner Brothers Nashville’s, Paul Worley along with Big & Rich on to the stage. WFMS’s own Steve Stuart posed a question to Big Kenny & John Rich, from a member of the audience, Anita Thrower. Anita wanted to know when the Muzik Mafia would be entertaining us here in Indiana since she loved their performance in Detroit. Both said it would be great to play here in Indy, but it was up the guys sitting on stage for approval. And if it is any indication of the reception they would receive in Indy, I am sure it would turn into a fantastic party as Big & Rich wowed this audience with their show.

After a short break, it was now time for the reveal of the surprise guest. When they proceeded to bring a black piano on stage I knew in that moment it was, Arista/Nashville recording artist, Phil Vassar. Phil arrived on stage and the audience cheered him as he sang “American Child”. Phil plays one mean piano, and added to his great set with a wonderful performance of “Six Pack Summer”. The audience truly enjoyed having Phil there as the surprise guest as he had them up on their feet singing and dancing along for his entire set. http://www.philvassar.com

Vivaton recording artist, Chely Wright was next to the stage and sang her first single “Shut Up and Drive” to get the crowd going. She then pointed out to the audience that the official CME T-shirt did not have her listed as a performer and then proceeded to personally sign one for a very ecstatic fan. Chely went on to thank WFMS and stated they do more for country music than any other before singing “Single White Female”, a definite fan favorite as they showed their enthusiasm for her return to the stage. It is nice to see Chely return and get back on the road with her new record and the first single “Back of the Bottom Drawer”, the tender ballad of love lessons learned. http://www.chely.com

Curb recording duo, Blue County, which is made up of former Christian music artist, Aaron Benward who was born in Auburn, Indiana and former daytime actor, Scott Reeves took to the stage next. This good-looking duo performed their soon-to-be-released single “That’s Cool”. They stated they have been friends for six years and if it is any indication of future success the ladies in the crowd made them very welcome. These guy’s showcased sweet harmonies as they sang their current single, “Good Little Girls”, which thrilled the crowd. This duo have been friends for 6 years and at the urging of their wives finally got together. It will be interesting to follow this talented new duo and watch them develop as the years progress. http://www.bluecountyfans.com

Taking the stage for a cooking demonstration was Hazel Smith, Country Music Insider’s First Lady of Nashville. Hazel is always a highlight to the CME and Indianapolis loves her! To end the first day of CME 2004, we were delighted to welcome Equity recording artist Clint Black. The place went wild as Clint took the stage singing “State of Mind” and followed with “Killin Time”, one of my favorite CB tunes. Clint then sang 1989’s “Better Man” and the audience enthusiastically showed their approval. Clint explained he had a cold and almost didn’t make it to the show – so he was taking it easy. He also spoke about his 3-year-old daughter Lily, who was the inspiration for the song “Spend My Time” and the audience was treated to a top-notch performance of this one. He then launched into the next single set for release “The Boogie Man”, and it was well received from this enthusiastic Indiana crowd. Clint sang the rockin’ tune “Nothing But the Taillights” and thanked WFMS for all they do. He asked the crowd “Did I do okay?” to which they responded with spirited hootin’ and hollerin’. Clint then closed out the show with two more songs for the encore, “Put Yourself in My Shoes” and “We Tell Ourselves”. It is a true show of professionalism when a singer/songwriter/performer comes to your city while not feeling up to par and gives it his all. Clint Black did just that and proved why he has been at the top of the charts and in the hearts of many throughout the years. With much appreciation and thanks from the Indiana fans, it was truly an honor he chose to be there for us. What a spectacular ending to the first day of the 2004 CME!




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