Country music's up-and-coming women stole the show at the 2020 CRS New Faces of Country Music showcase in Nashville on Friday night (Feb. 21). Runaway June and Ingrid Andress turned in by far the most polished and inspiring performances of the night, highlighting a CRS experience in 2020 that seemed very deliberately geared toward emphasizing more inclusion for female country artists.

Runaway June have been on the rise for several years — in fact, Taste of Country included them in our inaugural class of RISERS in 2017 — and they have clearly arrived on the strength of their latest material. Always strong musically and especially vocally, the trio of Naomi Cooke, Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne demonstrated a newfound level of arena-worthy confidence and stage presence on Friday, showing off the lessons they learned in 2019 opening for Carrie Underwood on her Cry Pretty Tour 360. Their set of songs from their debut album, Blue Roses, included "Trouble With This Town," "Head Over Heels," "We Were Rich" and their breakthrough Top 20 hit, "Buy My Own Drinks."

All of the songs featured cleanly written, instantly-recognizable melodies, strong hooks and perfectly blended harmonies, but "We Were Rich" is the best of the bunch, with its nostalgic look back at a childhood that seemed perfectly idyllic despite whatever financial circumstances one grew up in. One hopes it might be their next single, as it has "Top Songs of 2020" written all over it.

Andress was a revelation, showing off vocal, instrumental and performing abilities that seem to arrive surprisingly fully formed despite her status as a newcomer. She kicked off her set with "Both," displaying a natural ability to command the stage and a powerful, unique voice before debuting a new song titled "The Stranger," which destroys the romantic cliches Nashville is so often awash in. Next up was "Lady Like," the title song of her upcoming debut album, which is set for release on March 27. She closed her set with her debut single, "More Hearts Than Mine," which currently sits just outside the Top 10 at country radio, giving her a well-deserved national breakthrough. Andress' set was a home run on every conceivable level — vocally, instrumentally and in terms of performance and songs — announcing the arrival of a major new talent.

Riley Green, Morgan Evans and Mitchell Tenpenny rounded out the New Faces show for 2020, and each of them provided some standout moments. Green performed a new song titled "If It Wasn't for Trucks," but the highlight of his show-opening set was undoubtedly an emotional rendition of "I Wish Grandpas Never Died," his current single.

Morgan Evans performed "Young Again," "Kiss Somebody" and "Diamond," pumping up the crowd with fun, infectious melodies and showing off his guitar skills, but the standout from his set was also an emotional ballad, "Things That We Drink To." Evans wrote the song in memory of his late manager, Rob Potts, who first brought Evans to America and managed him for a decade before his death in 2017.

Tenpenny's set was an amalgam of fun, infectious pop-country songs and more serious work. He opened with his current single, "Anything She Says," and also performed a new song, "Can't Go to Church," before sharing a devastatingly powerful song titled "Walk Like Him," which tributes his late father.

Despite strong performances from some of country music's most up-and-coming men, the women undeniably walked away winners after the New Faces show on Friday. That show was the culmination of the 2020 Country Radio Seminar, during which the ongoing debate over the inequality women face at country radio was front and center during a series of panels, discussions, interviews and performances. In addition to Runaway June and Andress, Mickey Guyton, Caylee Hammack, Ashley McBryde, Kylie Morgan, Danielle Bradbery and more country females provided some of the brightest musical moments, as well as veterans Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Reba McEntire.

The question remains: Will this be the year that this discussion comes to fruition in real-life action? Runaway June and Ingrid Andress are the current country frontrunners to answer that question at country radio and on the charts.

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