A major contingent of Music Row professionals paused their hectic CMA Awards week to pack into Nashville’s City Winery for CMT’s Next Women of Country showcase on Nov. 13.
Those who were there were treated to an inspiring brunch that served a heavy dose of empowering performances by rising women in music. The No. 1 takeaway from the sixth annual event was to inspire positive change by giving the opportunity for women to support other rising female voices in today’s multimedia environment.
The 2019 CMT Next Women of Country tour headliner Cassadee Pope and CMT SVP/Music Strategy Leslie Fram co-hosted the proceedings with special appearances by hitmaker Natalie Hemby and Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild, the latter of whom introduced members of the 2019 class.
The future is female and CMT is supporting that sentiment with their Next Women of Country program. Since its launch in 2013, CMT has shone a spotlight on up and coming female artists, highlighting the new female voices that are poised to make an impact.
The new inductees are Anna Vaus, Emily Hackett, Ingrid Andress, Lainey Wilson, Lauren Duski, Leah Turner, Rachel Wammack, Stephanie Quayle and Tenille Townes.
“We all in this room have the collective power to bring on change,” Fram said, “changing the rules, making new rules so that we can get back home to where we used to be and what I mean by getting back home is I’m talking about a home where there is an equal playing field for female artists.
“Everyone says, ‘Let the best songs win,’ and we truly believe that [whether they are performed by] male or female [artists], let the best songs win, but we do need that equal playing field,” she continued. “We need that to enact fairness on the charts, playlists and not to have to hear there’s only one slot for a female. After you get inspired today, which you will, let’s continue that mission of making real positive change.”
View this post on Instagram
Maren Morris, the 2018 Impact award recipient, echoed the call for positive change when she received her award. Before taking the floor, Hemby shared a long list of her accomplishments that primarily happened shortly after Morris made her debut at the showcase in 2016. “The awards, everything, that did not exist 36 months ago,” Morris said. “A lot has changed in such a short amount of time. I remember playing this two years ago, playing ‘My Church,’ and I was so brand new, I was just so excited and very inspired by every woman I was being inducted into this with. It’s just so inspiring.
“I hope in my short time as a representative of country music, I’ve been impactful to some of you because I am so in tune with what’s going on with women right now. I was just talking with the Sisterhood and Tenille Townes, Cassadee and Natalie, these women are so effing good, they deserve this platform because eventually country radio is going to get it’s [expletive] together and play everyone.”
Backstage Pope expressed her thoughts as to why the female perspective is so important in today’s music.
“Sometimes people think there’s a limitation to what we can say, but there’s not,” Pope said. “I think that’s something that’s been programmed into our heads and into people’s heads in the industry, but the sky’s the limit to what we can say. I understand being a little afraid of baring certain feelings. But I think it’s important for us to be bold and daring because everybody in the world, all these women have felt the same way we are feeling in our songs. It’s important to no matter how scary it is, to let it all out.”
She added she wouldn’t be where she is today without seeing other women onstage when she was a rising musician.
“It’s always been inspiring,” she said. “The women that make it and do really well, they’re huge. They’re not just little blips in the history of women who succeed. My vision for myself is playing arenas and stadiums because that’s the kind of people I saw as a kid growing up. I saw Shania Twain, I saw Avril Lavigne and people like that who were just larger than life. It’s really inspiring, and it allowed me to just have a bigger goal for myself.”
The CMT Next Women of Country concert was a traditional guitar pull with intimate acoustic performances by Duski, Hackett, Townes, Andress, Vaus, Wammack, Clare Dunn, the Sisterhood, Carly Pearce and Kelleigh Bannen. Each singer touched on a range of topics and emotions that prove the diversity of the genre’s female voices.
Leading up to the event, Tenille Townes shared that being inducted into the 2019 class reminds her of the strong female voices she grew up listening to. She proved herself to be a powerhouse with her performance of the empathetic “Somebody’s Daughter” that left a sincere impression on the audience, while Rachel Wammack had many of her fellow honorees in tears after her harrowing performance of “Damage.”
“It makes me think about the incredible women in my life who have inspired me in music. I grew up listening to all kinds of different powerhouse female voices,” Townes said of influences like Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks. “All of these people that really gave me the courage watching their path. I feel like being here is being able to be a part of that legacy in some way. It’s a true honor to get to be a part of this community.”
View this post on Instagram
Lauren Duski, who rose to fame as the second place finalist on season 12 of The Voice, shared her struggles of feeling comfortable in her own skin before showcasing her enduring vocals on her haunting ballad “Costume Party.” “I think it means that we have a lot of responsibility to represent this genre, and I don’t take that lightly,” she shares about what it means to be a member of Next Women of Country. “I think that remembering that we’re all here to represent country music in our best way possible and to shine a light on the women here in country.”
Stephanie Quayle echoes this statement. Since moving to Nashville 10 years ago, Quayle is an example of an artist who’s been hitting the pavement hard, serving as a determined female voice waiting for a breakthrough. She’s now seeing a dream fulfilled as one of the newest members of Next Women of Country, a goal she’s been working toward since the program launched. “I think it’s a huge responsibility. I think that it’s commitment to continuing to be a voice for women and that’s something that I’ve always strived for,” she says. “I think this just adds more to that fire in my belly, which is always fighting for those that I need to fight for.”
Lainey Wilson, who drew attention with her dynamic self-titled 2018 EP, is adopting the pay it forward model with her induction. She looks at the 2018 class, which includes Ashley McBryde, Kassi Ashton and Kalie Shorr, hoping to inspire other young artists the way they did for her. “I see a lot of girls who were inducted last year who are paving the way for us girls who are trying to just get our foot in the door. I hope that I can also pave the way for the girls next year and the girls after that. So I think it’s just got to be this steady process,” she describes.
Enjoy scenes from the 2018 event, and join the conversation on social media using #CMTNextWomen.