Bobby Karl Works The CMA Music Festival Opening Ceremony

Photo: @chrisyoungmusic

Photo: @chrisyoungmusic


Chapter 531

It was the most perfect opening ceremony in the history of the CMA Music Festival.

The weather was flawless—a gentle breeze was blowing, the sky was cloudless and the temperature was in the low 80s. The talent was amazing. The fans were fresh, young and enthusiastic. The venue was sensational.

The event was staged on Wednesday (June 8) at Ascend Amphitheater, which was making its debut as a Fest concert location. It holds around 6,500 folks on its seats and grassy banks. Backstage areas are not generally noted for their looks, but Ascend’s are gorgeous, featuring barn-wood walls and super-stylish dressing rooms.

“Welcome to our newest venue, the AT&T Skyview Stage,” said CMA chief Sarah Trahern to the crowd. “Let’s get this party started.” She introduced AT&T Tennessee President Joelle Phillips, then brought on The Fisk Jubilee Singers and their director Dr. Paul Kwame.

The Singers delivered a moving version of “The Star Spangled Banner” and were rewarded with a giant cheer. Explosions and fireworks ensued, to everyone’s delight. Then the Fisk Jubilees drew whistles and applause for their lively rendition of the spiritual “Keep Your Hands on the Plow.”

“We have fans here from every state and 25 foreign countries,” said Sarah. She brought on the CMA’s president-elect Bill Simmons, current president Sally Williams and chairman of the board John Esposito. Then she introduced Mayor Megan Barry.

Opening #CMAFest today at @ascend_amphitheater! Welcome to Nashville, everyone! @cma

A photo posted by Megan Barry (@mayormeganbarry) on

“Good morning, everybody!” exclaimed Barry. “It’s such a great honor to be with you today. It’s my first time at the Festival as the Mayor of Nashville. How many of you are not from Nashville?”

Just about every hand in the place went up.

“You are having a $60 million impact on our city. We welcome you…and hope you spend a lot of money. I just want to thank Sarah Trahern and all her team at the Country Music Association. Welcome, again, to Nashville!”

Sarah told the audience about the festival’s benefit to music education, then began her introduction of The Man: “Chris Young is our international ambassador for our genre and a true Southern gentleman. Also, one of our sexiest men [squeals from the crowd]. When we asked him to kick it off, he said, ‘I’m in.’ And here he is.”

“Welcome to Music City,” said Chris. “I’m from Murfreesboro, and I’ve been coming to CMA Fest as long as I can remember. Then I got a booth. Then I got on stage. This week, all the artists donate their time, but what we get back is priceless.

“If we’re really gonna kick things off right, we’ve got to do something with a little more attitude.” He brought on a snappy, 13-member drum line of Nashville high-school students. The kids thundered through a stirring succession of rhythms. Loved ‘em.

“The only bad thing is, I have to follow them,” said Chris. He brought out two of his band members for a triple-guitar lineup at the front of the stage.

From out of the crowd, a light, high female voice floated on the breeze: “We love you, Chris!” “I love you, too!” he responded.

Then came a louder, male baritone voice: “I love you, Chris!” “It’s not the same, but I appreciate it,” Chris quipped back. The star launched into “Gettin’ You Home,” and the crowd sang it back to him.

“Wear sunblock, wear sunglasses, and drink plenty of water,” he advised the fans about the long weekend to come.

He followed with “I Can Take It From There,” and they screamed at its “Conway Twitty” line. In keeping with the Nashville music-schools theme, he brought out 16-year-old Tristan McIntosh. She’s a Nashville School of the Arts student who competed on American Idol. They sang Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing at All” together.

“How’s that for helping to kick off CMA Fest?” said Chris. “I love you guys!”

“Working the room” in various locations were Jim Catino, Larry Fitzgerald, Todd Cassetty, Aaron Hartley, Pete Robinson, Dale Bobo, Kevin Wilson, Storme Warren, Randy Goodman, Dennis Banka, Wendy Pearl, Ken Robold, Paul Barnabee and Melissa Maynard.

Like a dream. Thx @cma and @SXMTheHighway for helping us kick off #CMAFest and broadcasting the show!!

A photo posted by HIGH VALLEY (@hvalley) on

For the rest of the day, Ascend Amphitheater was the only active CMA Fest stage. Booked were Clare Dunn, High Valley, Steve Moakler, William Michael Morgan, Old Dominion, Michael Ray, Aubrie Sellers, Kalie Shorr and the day’s finale, Frankie Ballard, who’s riding on the wings of three consecutive No. 1 records.

The fans, needless to say, were totally into it. Gazing out at the 5,000+ throng, I saw them in their pristine state: still vibrant and un-bronzed by the sun, full of youthful verve and eager anticipation. And love. I saw lots of love for country music.

Tomorrow, the full onslaught of festival activities commences.


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