This is not your father's country music — and that's a good thing.

The 2015 Country Radio Seminar wrapped up Friday evening (Feb. 27) with the New Faces of Country Music show at the Nashville Convention Center, and the hottest young acts in the genre were on hand to demonstrate that despite speculation to the contrary, country music is alive and well and living in Nashville.

There's been an enormous amount of debate over the course of the last several years about the state of country music, as fans and critics alike have decried the perceived lack of substantial songs at country radio. But if Friday night was any indication, the pendulum is swinging back the other way.

Sam Hunt took the stage first, kicking things off with his recent No. 1 hit, "Leave the Night On." He ran through a set that also included his genre-bending current hit, "Take Your Time," thanking the assembled tastemakers for their support for his edgy brand of contemporary country. Hunt was a hip presence with his ball cap and T-shirt, performing with the polish of a showbiz veteran.

Frankie Ballard was next up, playing guitar onstage for the first time since he separated his shoulder at a recent gig. If Ballard was in any pain, he didn't show it, blasting through an energetic set that showed off his uniquely soulful voice on "Sunshine & Whiskey," "Helluva Life" and "Young and Crazy," which also allowed him to show off his considerable guitar skills.

One of the strongest sets of the night belonged to Maddie and Tae, who shot to virtual overnight stardom with the chart-topping success of their debut single, the anti-bro-country anthem "Girl in a Country Song." Their energetic and fun set centered around tightly-constructed songs, as well as vocal harmonies that are every bit as strong live as on record. In addition to their current single, "Fly," they performed a big, emotional ballad titled "After the Storm Blows Through" that could end up being a career-changing song for them, ending their set in tears of gratitude for the support they've had from radio so far.

This is not your father's country music — and that's a good thing.

Eric Paslay's set kicked off with "Song About a Girl" and ran through a jaw-dropping rendition of "She Don't Love You" that drew one of the biggest reactions of the night, as well as strong versions of "Keep On Fallin'" and "Friday Night," demonstrating his ability to hold his listeners with a wide array of material.

Cole Swindell wrapped up the night with a high-energy performance that began with "Hey Ya'll" and ripped through "Hope You Get Lonely Tonight," "Chillin' It" and his current hit, "Ain't Worth the Whiskey." The singer-songwriter preceded his set with a humorous video starring Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Martina McBride — who chided him for not knowing how to sell T-shirts in perhaps the funniest in-joke of the night — and displayed the kind of undeniable charisma and audience engagement that will likely carry him to even greater career heights.

There's no getting around the fact that country music has changed, and the New Faces show certainly underscored that. With the exception of Maddie and Tae, it was long on heavy guitars and groove-laden beats, and the only hats present were baseball caps. But each of the night's performers offered up a unique take on country music. The most heartening thing to see was that for the most part, despite whatever production and imaging elements were present, the newly-anointed next generation of country stars kept the focus on genuine songcraft, and delivered those songs live in the room with a notable absence of trickery.

If that's where country music is currently headed, count us in.

Artists to Watch in 2015

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