In the midst of one of the busiest weeks in country music, a few hundred people gathered at City Winery in Nashville, Tenn., for CMT’s second annual ‘Next Women of Country’ event to celebrate some of country music’s most influential women. Hosted by Leslie Fram, CMT’s SVP of Music Strategy, and country superstar Lee Ann Womack, the event struck a chord with those in attendance with its purpose to empower the new generation of female artists in the industry.
The women in the franchise are young, but their list of credentials would tell otherwise. As each artist was announced, impressive statistics were rattled off by proud label and industry representatives who have believed in them from the beginning. The nine total acoustic performances of the day started strong with Natalie Stovall’s “We Are” and Angelina Presley’s “Pain Pills” from her anticipated American Middle Class album, which NPR is calling the new album of the year.
Along with great performances came exciting announcements. Fram introduced four new women being added to the Next Women franchise: Kelsea Ballerini, whose single “Love Me Like You Mean It” was the number one added new song by a country artist in 2014, Mickey Guyton, a crowd favorite, and Maddie & Tae and RaeLynn, artists who are not strangers to the country music charts. All four gave brief performances that left the audience wanting more.
Also in attendance was the newly named mentor for ‘Next Women of Country’, legendary singer/songwriter Jewel. She gave inspiring words to the young women sitting in front of her, emphasizing that her “goal is to make my life my best work of art.” She spent time shedding light on the unequal balance of men and women in country music, speaking out to country radio: “It’s okay to play women back-to-back.”
Other performances included Lindsey Ell, showing off hard-hitting guitar skills in her girl power song “Shut Me Up,” and Jana Kramer with the heartfelt ballad “I Got the Boy” from her upcoming sophomore album. Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Shane McAnally spoke about Next Women member Brandy Clark, who was unable to attend, and was even put on the spot to perform Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” which he and Clark co-wrote with Musgraves. The single won the CMA Award for song of the year the next night.
Although the stylistic differences are clear among the Next Women group, it is obvious they share something unique; together they are taking responsibility for turning the page for females in this industry.
“Our mission remains as critical as ever now in our second year of Next Women,” said Fram. “As champions of music, we have to ensure these incredible female voices are heard. It’s time for a change in the male-dominated format, and CMT is proud to celebrate and empower the female voices that are making an indelible mark in country music.”