Bobby Karl Works The Room: Friday At CMA Music Festival

Carrie Underwood. Photo: John Russell / CMA

Carrie Underwood. Photo: John Russell / CMA

Chapter 534

FRIDAY, JUNE 10:

You couldn’t have asked for a better lineup to kick off the Riverfront Stage on the Friday morning of this year’s CMA Music Festival.

Brandy Clark. Photo: John Russell/CMA

Brandy Clark. Photo: John Russell/CMA

Brandy Clark, Eric Paslay, Home Free and Kane Brown were all raging successes with the young, buff sun worshippers who are in this stage’s audience every day during the fest. “We’re professional dreamers,” said Eric to the crowd. “Thank you for letting me sing my songs.”

His set featured songs he’s written for others (Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”), hits he’s written for himself (“She Don’t Love You”) and a cover (The Stones’ “Satisfaction”). Eric left them begging for more after a rousing treatment of his gold-certified “Friday Night,” with which they sang along. It was a star-making performance.

Eric Paslay. Photo: Natasha Moustache/CMA

Eric Paslay. Photo: Natasha Moustache/CMA

On the Gildan Hard Rock stage, bopping Sammy Arriaga turned in an energetic, danceable set. He’s a Cuban-American from Miami who is doubtless used to heat, hence his all-white cotton stage duds.

Ryan Kinder. Sanford Myers/CMA

Ryan Kinder. Sanford Myers/CMA

“Sorry about the heat,” said Ryan Kinder on the Chevrolet Cruze Park Stage. “I’m in the shade. I wish y’all could be up here with me.” During the day, about 300 people were treated for heat-related issues. Luckily, only two had to be taken to the hospital.

Circulating in the sunshine were Kent Earls, Lindsay Jones, Neal Spielberg, aspiring artist Alana Springsteen, Lane Wilson and Pete Loesch, who was headed for the Next Women of Country program in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

2016-CMAMusicFestival-Logo-Badge-4CMe? I was taking a break from music to be entertained by the Ultimate Air Dogs on the Bridgestone plaza. Each one’s toy or Frisbee is tossed into the air above a long pool. The doggie leaps to catch it and splashes joyfully into the water. The one who splashes the furthest, wins.

Lunchtime arrived. There was a zone called Eats N Beats where 19 local food trucks are lined up on both sides of Fifth Avenue between the Hall of Fame and the Music City Center. I chose the air conditioning of Al Taglio in the MCC at the corner of 5th and Korean Vets. They serve dandy sandwich-and-salad combos at reasonable prices.

Further into the MCC we plunged. Just in time to catch Confederate Railroad on the Durango Stage in the Fan Fair exhibit hall. The finale was — perfect! — “Trashy Women.” Another highlight on that stage on Friday was T. Graham Brown.

Allison Jones, Sherod Robertson, Larry Stewart and Mickey Guyton were working the room. Autographing away were Lulu Roman, The Bellamy Brothers, Jamie Lynn Spears and Post Monroe. The celeb with the longest autograph line? That would be rock legend Steven Tyler.

Charles Esten. Caitlin Harris/CMA

Charles Esten. Caitlin Harris/CMA

Charles Esten was autographing, too. He was basking in the news that CMT is picking up his addictive TV series Nashville. He told the Fan Fair fans about it, and they cheered. Then he “made it official” at his Riverfront show, joined by Mayor Megan Barry and castmates Clare Bowen and Chris Carmack. The latter had headed to Esten’s show after finishing his own on the Chevy Cruze Stage earlier that day.

Blake Shelton played a surprise show at The Stage on Lower Broadway on Friday afternoon. Fans yelled out requests and sang along with every song.

That night at Nissan Stadium, Mayor Megan Barry and CMA CEO Sarah Trahern addressed the crowd. Then Frankie Ballard performed the national anthem on electric guitar.

Clint Black kicked off the night’s music with “Nothin’ But the Taillights.” Wife Lisa Hartman Black joined him for “You Still Get to Me.”

“That’s country music, in case you don’t recognize it,” quipped Dennis Banka about Clint’s stellar collection of vintage hit tunes.

In between sets, Nashville’s Listing Sisters joined hosts The Property Brothers for banter and TV clips. Both duos are identical twins with shows on HGTV.

Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton. Photo: Caitlin Harris/CMA

Chris Stapleton and Morgane Stapleton. Photo: Caitlin Harris/CMA

The musical highlight of the night came next. Chris Stapleton electrified the crowd. His searing rendition of “Nobody to Blame” was greeted with a massive roar from the capacity crowd. Several long guitar workouts characterized his jam-band flavored set. He inventively sang his band introductions, including harmonica virtuoso Mickey Raphael and Chris’s wife, Morgane Stapleton.

“What time is it?” asked Chris. “It’s time for country whiskey!” This led into his finale, “Tennessee Whiskey.” It was audio catnip to the fans.

Stapleton was one of the handful of CMA Fest acts who were also playing Bonnaroo. These also included Maren Morris, Aubrie Sellers and the next act on Friday night’s stadium bill, Sam Hunt.

Sam Hunt. Photo: Natasha Moustache/CMA

Sam Hunt. Photo: Natasha Moustache/CMA

Sam’s set was highlighted by his spoken/sung smash “Take Your Time.” He did a couple of stints on ground level, shaking hands with the front-row folks below the lip of the stage.

I felt a little sorry for Sam, having to follow the prodigiously gifted Chris Stapleton and being succeeded by charismatic master showman Eric Church, who takes no prisoners when he performs.

Eric Church. Photo: CMA Press

Eric Church. Photo: CMA Press

The night’s surprise guests were Chris Janson (“Buy Me a Boat”) and Justin Moore (“You Look Like I Need a Drink”). Both returned to sing “Born to Boogie” with Hank Williams Jr.

Eric Church was the guest on Hank’s “Are You Ready for the Country.” Here’s something I don’t think has occurred at CMA Fest before. Bocephus included his label boss, Scott Borchetta, in his band.

Hank Williams Jr. Photo: Natasha Moustache/CMA

Hank Williams Jr. Photo: Natasha Moustache/CMA

Carrie Underwood unleashed the night’s finale set, during which she debuted as a harmonica player.

It was a big industry schmooze night at the stadium. Fabulons working the hospitality room included Mike Sirls, Mike Craft, John Marks, Mark Brown, Herky Williams, Bill Wence, Bill Denny, Kurt Denny, Jack Purcell, Bob DiPiero, Tom Collins, Horton Frank, Ansel Davis, Ray Shelide, Brett Woolcott & Lydia Lenker, Nancy Shapiro, Ron Stuve, Donna Hughes and Steve Emley.

Perry Howard had Canadian songwriter Colter Wall in tow. With a sponsor like that, Colter is bound to succeed. Ed Benson was reminiscing about the first CMA Fest at the stadium (2004), when none of the uppermost decks held fans. “Do you think we’ll ever fill it?” Benson had asked. “One of these days,” replied then-mayor Karl Dean. A prophet, if ever there was one.

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