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Published: Thursday, 4/15/2004

A bright future for country music

After a couple of tough years on Music Row, there's at least one

Nashville executive who is positive about the direction of country music.

"It's been a long time since we've had four or five new artists with

gold records right out of the gate," says former Sony Music executive Mike Kraski, who is now part-owner of Equity Records. "You've got Dierks Bentley, Buddy Jewell, Josh Turner, and now Gretchen Wilson has the hottest and most talked about single [Redneck Woman] in radio. We may be at the beginning of a resurgence in country music."

While acknowledging that Nashville has been suffering because of

poor economic conditions and Internet piracy, Kraski believes the industry needs to be rebuilt with the likes of Bentley and Jewell.

"The future of any music company has to be its new artists. It's a

Catch-22. It's more dangerous and risky, but playing it safe makes the music vanilla and more boring and less enjoyable for the marketplace."

Despite his belief in the value of new artists, he says most who

fall in that category don't understand what it's all about.

"I always ask them who they are. It's amazing how often they don't

have an answer to that. You have to have a singular vision for what you want to say, and you have to understand and recognize that this is more than a full-time job.

It isn't about just recording and touring. It's about getting up at 5:30 in the morning and going on a drive-time show, sound checks, signing autographs, going to meet-and-greets, playing, then getting back on the bus. It's a 20-hour-a-day job."

And, he says, it takes a special person who can keep going when a

lot of people don't believe in you. The future of any company may be in fresh faces, but labels are still a lot more conservative with how they are going to spend their money in this climate.

"You really have to have thick skin," Kraski says. "You're going to

deal with an awful lot of rejection before you get embraced by someone and given a chance. The Dixie Chicks were passed over twice by every label in Nashville before they were given a chance. But just because you get a rejection letter, it doesn't mean they are right."

***

BNA Records newcomer Rachel Proctor has taken on a controversial

subject right out of the gate, and it's paying off for her.

"Me and Emily" talks about a woman's struggle with domestic violence and her decision to take her daughter out of that situation and search for a better life. The hopeful message has been connecting with listeners and spurring a lot of e-mails.

"When you read these personal stories, it's a wake-up call, you

know?" she says. The single is at No. 33 on this week's Radio and Records chart.

***

Country superstar Martina McBride, fresh off the triple platinum

certification of her "Greatest Hits" CD, is going to be making a special appearance on Sesame Street on April 26. She'll be performing a duet, "Let's Pretend," with Elmo.

She'll also be on the cover of Redbook in May as a tribute to

musical moms, and then she'll end the month with a performance at the ACM Awards show on May 26.

***

The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville has begun its run of Tuesday night

shows, which are meant to enable visitors to catch some entertainment not only on the weekends but during the middle of the week.

There will be 37 Tuesday night shows, with the last date on Dec. 21.

Each two-hour show will feature 15-minute performances by new stars, superstars, and legends.

Visit www.opry.com for for more information.

And speaking of the Opry, Naomi and Wynonna Judd will make their

first ever appearance as a duo on that stage tonight. It can be seen live at 8 on GAC.

***

Baseball's Opening Day was a big day for a couple of ladies. Sara

Evans sang "God Bless America" at the Cincinnati Reds' home opener and Toledo-native Michelle Poe sang the national anthem for the Florida Marlins when they opened the season against the Montreal Expos.

***

Mary Chapin Carpenter's comeback is kicking into high gear ahead of the April 27 release of her new album, "Between Here & Gone." She will perform on NBC's Today Show on Wednesday, then play for David Letterman on April 27.

***

Everyone keeping an eye on Gretchen Wilson. She's poised to be the

first female act to hit the top of the charts in more than a year. "Redneck Woman" has climbed to No. 6 on this week's Radio and Records chart.

***

And Warner Brothers artist Lane Turner is the new voice of Dr.

Pepper. He's recorded several national radio commercials for the soft drink. Check out his Web site, www.lanetuner.com, to hear the new spot.



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