September 24th, 2010
02:20 PM ET
Country Music Hall of Fame events usually bring out well-heeled execs in suits and women dressed to the nines.
Thursday night's fundraiser in Los Angeles brought out little girls in cowboy boots holding hands with their moms. The reason? Taylor Swift was in the house.
"We were smart enough to invite this kid," joked Vince Gill, as he introduced the 20-year-old country-pop sensation. "We dig her because she sold all the tickets. Miss Taylor Swift, everybody!"People sipping wine in the floor seats chuckled knowingly. People in the balcony seats screamed their heads off.
Swift herself sat demurely on the stage in a knee-length daffodil yellow dress, flanked by icons. To her left - Gill and Hall of Fame members Emmylou Harris and Kris Kristofferson. To her right - a playful Lionel Richie, who insisted on being called "LioNEL" the entire evening, a throwback to his self-proclaimed "big hair" days with the Commodores.
The five artists were participating in a time-honored country music tradition, the Guitar Pull - a round-robin where each musician takes a turn performing a song.
Swift strummed along softly as Kristofferson sang "Me and Bobby McGee" with Harris on back-up vocals. Richie played piano and goaded Gill into an impromptu guitar solo during "Easy," his 1977 hit with the Commodores. After Swift performed her latest single, "Mine," Gill made a personal request for "Fifteen," an ode to her freshman year in high school. "I was thinking about writing a song called 'Fifty,'" he quipped.
Richie's R&B and pop classics were a refreshing twist, and the melodies played well against the country tunes of his peers on stage. In fact, his songs will be reinterpreted by country artists in an upcoming CD produced by Nashville's Tony Brown. Gill said he and his wife, Amy Grant, would be covering "Easy."
As for Swift, she more than held her own with this bunch of veteran singer/songwriters two and three times her age.
The acoustic setting showcased the intimate nature of her songwriting, and her voice sounded strong against the quiet backdrop - unlike some award show performances, where her voice occasionally loses focus when competing against splashy stage productions.
The performance for the Country Music Hall of Fame proved she had every right to share the spotlight with such icons as Kristofferson, Gill, Harris and Richie. Her unique ability to grow the country music audience while effortlessly nabbing awards like the 2010 Grammy for "Album of Year" speak to her impact as an artist.
As she reached for her trademark guitar encrusted in sparkly Swarovski crystals, Gill couldn't help busting her chops. "Oh yeah, come on Buck Owens!" he roared as Harris asked pragmatically, "You're going to give it to the Hall of Fame, right?"
"Eventually," Swift replied.
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