FRIDAY AT THE FEST
On Friday (6/8) Nashville temperatures crept up toward what is more normal for the CMA Music Festival—until then we’d been blessed with the mildest weather in the history of the fan fiesta. So, prepared to sweat, we hit the “campus” on a 90-degree afternoon.
The Convention Hall exhibit area was far busier than it had been the day before. Ella Mae Bowen, Buddy Jewell, T. Graham Brown, Scotty McCreery, Blackberry Smoke, Jana Kramer, Doug Stone, Chase Rice, Craig Campbell, Sherry Lynne, Winfield’s Locket, Danielle Peck, Heidi Newfield, LoCash Cowboys, Corey Wagar, Laura Bell Bundy and The Oak Ridge Boys were autographing and posing for fan snapshots. So were daily stalwarts Lynn Anderson, Donna Fargo and Bucky Covington.
At the Acoustic Corner stage, always one of my favorites, Carter’s Chord was harmonizing sweetly. The afternoon’s schedule there also included Jimmy Fortune, Marty Raybon and Con Hunley, vocal champs all.
In the Gilden booth, fans were trying their hands at the “cow pie” tossing “Corn Hole Challenge” game as well as in a basketball basket-toss contest.
The Bridgestone stage was blistering under the afternoon sun, but get a load of the talent lineup. It included Eric Paslay, Rose Falcon, the reunited Exile and hotshot picker Frankie Ballard.
Over at the Country Music Hall of Fame (6/8), Casey James was autographing in the Museum Store, Love & Theft were singing on the plaza and David Anderson was serenading on guitar in the lobby’s restaurant.
Across the street at the Bic Beach, Morgan Frazier was warbling away. Young people were having fun at a pick-up, co-ed volleyball game nearby.
Over by the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, The Lodge was hosting Kellie Pickler for an autograph signing and Kip Moore for a performance. This facility is co-presented by GAC, HGTV and the Travel Channel.
At the lovely Caesar’s Palace tent, two gals were giddy being videotaped singing along with Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.” Shania begins her residency at the Palace on Dec. 1, and the Vegas venue was offering fans a chance to win tickets to see her.
The Buckle zone was also much more crowded than it had been. Legendary Bill Anderson was autographing inside the Opry Originals gift shop. A TV crew from GAC’s new “Noteworthy at the Opry” show was capturing it all.
What was going on outside the shop was even more entertaining. A group of ranting evangelists had taken up spots on the pavement just outside the store’s door. One guy with a megaphone was shouting at passers by, “Repent! Shame on you, ungodly, immodest, wild, wild women! Submit to your husbands!”
“This is so irritating,” said one tank-tubed hottie to her girlfriend. “Isn’t what they’re doing, like, illegal?” her babe buddy replied. Alas, no, it is not.
One accomplice had on a cloth “sandwich board” stating, “Warning to all Pot Smokers, Masturbators, Drunks and Partiers, Sexual Perverts, Judgment Coming.” On the other side of the street, another guy bellowed with a megaphone, “Country music doesn’t glorify God; country music glorifies sin!” That did it. Several fans yelled right back at him.
Still another fellow silently held a yellow-and-red banner reading, “Pornography: Pathway to Hell’s Fire.” A group of merry, tanned, shirtless heathens posed in front of it, grinning and giving the thumbs-up sign, while their buddy took their picture. Priceless.
Fortunately, the megaphones could not be heard up on the Hard Rock Café’s fan-packed plaza. Maggie Rose was rocking the stage. Organizers were tossing free t-shirts. The bar was serving Bushwhackers, Strawberry Daiquiris and beer. After Maggie, singer-songwriter Jessie Lee took over on the acoustic stage, displaying just as much spirit.
Near gridlock was achieved at Riverfront Park that afternoon (6/8) while the gifted Gloriana and David Nail entertained. My gut instinct sensed that a lot of locals were mixed in with the Festival attendees, accounting for the plethora of people.
That evening, the Festival faithful again gathered at LP Field. No one, but no one, can sing “The Star Spangled Banner” like the fabulous Oak Ridge Boys. After finishing and accepting an ovation, the quartet launched into a crowd-pleasing, a cappella, rendition of “Elvira.” Naturally, the audience sang along.
Living legend Ronnie Milsap romped through his hits, concluding with a surprise rock-out on The Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.” I thought this was perhaps too early in Brantley Gilbert’s career to have him on the Festival main stage, but the crowd welcomed him with gusto.
Jake Owen was clearly pumped about finally graduating from Riverfront to LP Field, six years after his chart debut. His enthusiastic set featured romping, clapping, stage diving and obvious joy. The masses waved their arms in sync throughout “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” as Jake cheered them on. If a superstar wasn’t born, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. The Band Perry also came prepared to win and took the stage with great vitality.
Gwen Sebastian and Randy Houser were booked to perform acoustic interludes in between the big stars. Blake Shelton and Carrie Underwood brought the night to a close with superstar razzle dazzle, and the finale fireworks did the rest.
As usual, the personalities of Music Row could be found mingling among the hoi polloi at the CMA Music Fest. At various times during the day (6/8), I encountered Allen Brown, Barry Coburn, Charlie Monk, Dennis Banka, Rod Essig, Two Foot Fred and Gary Overton (that’s A through G, if you’re keeping score).
Plus, Jo Walker Meador, Butch Spyridon, Mary Ann McCready, Robert Reynolds, Anthony Martin, Chuck Aly and Karen Tallier were working the “campus.” Onward into the weekend!
On Saturday afternoon (6/9), the Festival crowds were bigger than ever downtown, but the star pickins were slim. So it turned out to be a day of discoveries. That’s the way these things usually turn out.
At Riverfront, Corey Smith was a delightful surprise. His songwriting is individualistic and ear catching. His bluesy/country/folkie singing was also distinctive. The Georgia phenom said, “I’ve never written a hit song, but I’ve written a lot of songs that make me feel better about myself.” He must have brought his fan club with him, because although the songs were unknown to me, hundreds were singing along with the lyrics.
At the Hard Rock, Matt Mason laid down a very cool, country-rock groove. This former Nashville Star contestant has an EP titled Chasing Stardust and was on Luke Bryan’s CMT tour last year.
Believe it or not, I even found a discovery at the karaoke station in the Buckle zone. Miss Mary and I were passing by when I glimpsed a small slip of a girl taking the mic to sing to the track of “Broken Wing.” She was a revelation, not only hitting the “money” notes, but also investing the song with real feeling. I swear, if we’d put out a tip jar, we could have raised her college tuition right then and there.
Her name is Chloe Channell. She is 10 years old. She is from Milton, Florida. She recorded her first CD at age 8. She performs in northern Florida, southern Georgia and northeast Alabama with a group called The Sawmill Band. She has a website, of course, which is how I learned all of this.
The best discovery of all was Pancho Amat. He and his band came to the CMA Fest from Cuba. On Saturday afternoon on the Bridgestone stage, they were laying down some fantastico Caribbean grooves. David & Susana Ross say that Pancho is a superstar in his homeland, and I believe it. (See video below).
Autographing in the Convention Center that afternoon (6/9) were Aaron Lewis, The Gatlins, Sage Keffer, Scarletta and Brantley Gilbert. At the mobbed Durango stage, Mark Wills was singing “Don’t Laugh at Me” and “19 Somethin,’” both of which sounded dandy with just acoustic-guitar accompaniment.
Even in that Fan Fair district, the young and buff outnumbered the older and physically challenged attendees who normally have congregated in that zone. Heading into the huger part of the Fest that is free, I noted that there were at least as many locals without neck lanyards as there were “official” registrants, maybe more. These, too, were overwhelmingly young.
After bopping to Pancho at Bridgestone, we caught Donny Fallgatter in the Beach zone, Jason Thomas in the Roadhouse and Payton Taylor at the Hard Rock. Following peppy Payton was Ayla Brown, a Season 5 American Idol finalist, official anthem singer of the Philadelphia 76ers and a new Nashvillian.
If you sought bigger stars, you pretty much had to get down there in the morning — Kip Moore and Lonestar at Riverfront – or late afternoon – Kix Brooks at The Lodge and Mel Tillis at Riverfront.
The evangelists had moved further down Broadway, by the way. Standing near the entrance to Riverfront, Mr. Megaphone was shouting, “Turn away from Kenny Chesney! Turn away from Toby Keith! I don’t believe any of these country stars are Christians!” Nobody paid any attention.
Rick Murray, LeAnn Phelan, Brett James, Beth Gwinn and Lucas Hendrickson were among the industry-ites working it in the afternoon sunshine.
That night at LP Field (6/9), host Melissa Peterman urged the crowd to act up for the ABC-TV cameras. “That’s what they’re looking for,” she advised. Julie Roberts sang the Anthem. Kenny Rogers rolled through a somewhat mechanical set of his classics.
Then Hunter Hayes lit up the coliseum. Literally. As they entered, all 70,000 fans were given tiny flashlights with the instruction, “For Hunter Hayes.” When he made his way to a baby grand piano set up in the midst of the throng on the field to sing “Wanted,” all the little lights lit up. The adoring female faces immediately surrounding him said it all.
“OMG, Hunter Hayes!” Melissa exclaimed. “He’s 20!”
Rodney Atkins popped in for an unannounced run through of his new single, “Just Wanna Rock and Roll.” Little Big Town had everyone singing along to “Boondocks” and “Pontoon.” Then Eric Church came out in a lather with “Drink in My Hand,” “Smoke a Little Smoke” and more. Love & Theft and Kip Moore were booked for the acoustic interludes. Luke Bryan and Faith Hill were tapped to headline. There was an even longer fireworks finale than there had been on Friday.
The CMA Hospitality stadium box starred such fabulons as Ed Benson, Dale Bobo, Jonathan Walker, Jeff & Terri Walker, Victoria Shaw, Steve Moore and Mayor Karl Dean.