For me, the last day of the annual CMA Music Festival is always touched with a tinge of tristesse—it’s kinda sad that the circus is leaving town.
But it was so unmercifully hot and humid on Sunday (June 14) that I couldn’t feel anything except exhaustion. The heat index was 96 degrees, the highest of the week-long country celebration. Seriously. It was so hot you could feel the fiery concrete through the soles of your shoes.
As a whole, this year’s festival witnessed more folks—825—being treated for heat-related issues than ever before. This is twice the number of last year. On Sunday afternoon, alone, 299 succumbed.
For me, it wasn’t just the heat. When I woke up on Sunday, every bone in my body ached from the week’s relentless pace and long hours. But we rallied to hit the streets for a final afternoon’s stroll through the festival campus.
While strolling, I spotted my first traditional-looking Islamic festival goer. This woman was dressed with her hair and limbs completely covered, despite the temperature. She had her daughter in tow. For all I know, she was a Nashvillian. But this brings up the fact that people from 20 nations registered, as well as fans from all 50 states.
According to CMA’s Sarah Trahern, this year’s festival set another attendance record with a daily footprint of 87,680. That is up 9.6 percent from last year. Sales of tickets to the exhibit hall in the Music City Center were up 26 percent.
Despite the blazing heat, thousands gathered to live it up with Riverfront’s all-star lineup, including Lonestar, Thompson Square, Phil Vassar and Diamond Rio. Not surprisingly, a sizable flotilla of boats full of fans bobbed behind the stage on the Cumberland.
Other acts booked to sing and swelter on outdoor Sunday stages included The Grascals, Keith Anderson, The Marshall Tucker Band, Tate Stevens, Striking Matches and The Steeldrivers. “Stick a fork in me, I am well done,” quipped Channel 4’s overheated Jimmy Carter as the afternoon wore on.
At the Hard Rock (officially called the Gildan Broadway Stage at The Hard Rock Café), Drew Baldridge turned in a rocking, zesty set. Then he went behind the stage and signed autographs for surprised and delighted fans on 1st Ave. N.
Closing down the blessedly air-conditioned Music City Center were the fest’s final autographers, including Jo Dee Messina, Ken Mellons and Jamie O’Neal. Obviously, Chip Esten drew a huge crowd. But you know who else did? Buddy Jewell. So there.
Bringing the Fan Fair X portion of the fest to a close were such performers as Wade Hayes, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, John Berry, Ray Scott, Dustin Lynch and George Ducas. By mid-afternoon, many were already taking down their booths there. See what I mean about the last day seeming kind of sad?
If anything was guaranteed to chase the blues away, it was the lineup at LP Field that night. People like Eric Church, Keith Urban and Brad Paisley can always lift my spirits and remind me of why I love country music. Evidently, this works on the fans, too. They were definitely up for one more party. All three of these stars, by the way, flew in especially to perform for the fans at this “SuperBowl of Country Music.”
As we arrived, Charlie Worsham was feverishly rocking the BMI Tailgate Party. His shouted vocals, ripping guitar work and jumping stage presence enthralled all.
After Lee Greenwood did an instrumental version of “The Star Spangled Banner” on his sopranino saxophone, the first two finale concert performers couldn’t have been more different.
First up, Neal McCoy was performing at his 28th CMA fest. This master entertainer did hits as well as “The Beverly Hillbillies Theme” in hip-hop style, incorporating “The Banana Boat Song” (I kid you not). “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” led into “Wink.” Hey, he’s a showman.
Second came Cole Swindell, performing at LP Field for the first time. Looking and moving like a hologram of Luke Bryan, he played star-making hits such as “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight” and “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey.” The crowd’s enthusiastic reception recalled the one given to fellow first timer Brett Eldredge the previous night.
Mellow Darius Rucker proved why he is so widely liked. As you might imagine, all 50,000 fans sang along to “Wagon Wheel.”
And then the three superstars brought the 2015 CMA Music Festival to a close. Celebratory fireworks lit up the downtown skyline at midnight.
Seeing the fest’s finale were Sally Williams, Jody Williams, Billy Dawson, Charlie Cook, Charles Dorris, Joanne Berry, Victoria Shaw and Dennis Banka. A “summit meeting” of the “brain trust” of festival regulars featured Jeff Walker, David Ross, Pat Higdon and Dale Bobo.
I did not join them. The meeting I need is a massage.