Jelly Roll, Frank Ray, Priscilla Block, Nate Smith and Jackson Dean proved that modern country music encapsulates a wide range of talent at the 2023 Country Radio Seminar‘s (CRS) New Faces of Country Music Show on Wednesday (March 15). The annual tradition closes out the three-day seminar in Nashville with performances from some of the genre’s most promising rising stars. Below, we look at what made each artist stand out.
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Jelly Roll was full of surprises when he closed out CRS 2023 with a star-studded affair. “I always get a little nervous before shows, but I’m fucking trembling tonight,” he admitted. “It’s not often that you get to play for the people who changed your life.” The Nashville native shared how after writing music for 15 years and working in the hip-hop genre he told record label, BBR Music Group, that he wanted to be a country music artist. It was “time for the prodigal son to come home,” he recalled. This led to genuine performances of “Need a Favor” and his chart-topping country hit, “Son of a Sinner.”
Continuing to blaze a trail in the genre he now calls home, Jelly Roll announced he’s releasing his debut full-length country project, Whitsitt Chapel, available June 2. He was then joined by Brantley Gilbert and Nashville-based rapper, Struggle Jennings, on a song called “Behind Bars,” which will be featured on the new album. Jelly Roll is one of the most versatile artists working in country music today and his CRS New Faces set showed that his unique style is embraced by the country community.
When Frank Ray took the stage inside a ballroom at the Omni Nashville Hotel, he declared that he wanted to “set the bar,” a promise he kept throughout his five-song set. The New Mexico-born singer was a high-energy, engaging performer who moved with ease from start to finish.
Backed by a big-band country sound, he showed off his vocal chops with his breakthrough hit “Country’d Look Good on You,” “Tequila Mockingbird” and the soon-to-be-released single, “Somebody Else’s Whiskey.” Ray demonstrated his true star power when he livened up the room with his closing number, “Streetlights.” Welcoming a mariachi band and dancers to the stage for his spirited finale was a highlight of the night. Ray is a breath of fresh air in country music, and that was on full display during his set.
Priscilla Block brought a healthy balance of honesty and light-hearted energy to her dynamic set. The viral TikTok star who caught the attention of her record label UMG Nashville with her breakthrough hit, “Just About Over You,” demonstrated why fans have been captivated by her. She opened her set by professing, “I’ll never be the girl that leaves a bar because somebody I don’t like is there,” which led to her catchy song, “My Bar.”
Block brings a refreshing, modern female perspective to country music through her songwriting. She channeled the disappointment she felt when she saw her ex-boyfriend with another woman who looked just like her and turned that into the sharply written, “Me Pt. 2.” “I’ve always believed in myself and I was just waiting for people to start believing in me,” she professed of breaking into the Nashville music industry with her top 15 debut single, “Just About Over You.” She ended her set with the song and then shotgunned a beer. Throughout her four-song set, Block proved that her pure confidence is her secret weapon.
Before Nate Smith took to the stage, the curtains opened to the sound of a thunderstorm that set the tone for his booming voice. Smith opened his show with “Name Storms After,” which he delivered with fiery vocals.
He toned down his rock edge with the piano ballad “Wreckage,” which showed off his vocal vulnerability, matching that of such lyrics as, you see all the wreckage / And it wrecks me that you stay. “I get to be a messenger of music that can touch hearts,” he shared, staying in the vulnerable lane with “Better Boy.” Smith’s set solidified him as one of the most versatile new voices in the genre.
Jackson Dean created a moody atmosphere with his set. With a soulful voice that filled the massive ballroom at Omni Nashville Hotel, Dean leaned into his mysterious persona and hard rock-influenced sound. Dean also placed an emphasis on songwriting when he prefaced “Heavens to Betsy” by stating, “as a songwriter, this is a songwriter’s song-this is a damn good one.”
Dean closed out his set by thanking country radio for “changing my life” with his raucous hit debut single, “Don’t Come Lookin.'” Fans of Chris Stapleton will likely gravitate to Dean’s sound, as he proved himself to be one of the best new voices in country music.
Photo Credit: Patrick Tohill / Courtesy of Lime Tree Music