Bobby Karl Works The Room: Stars Come Out To Shine During CMA Music Fest

Kelsea Ballerini. Photo: Dusty Draper

Bobby Karl Works The Room: Chapter 594

The events surrounding the CMA Music Festival are all geared to showing the fans a country good time, but the industry folks find their fun spots, too.

The Music Row fabulons gathered on Friday (June 8) at the CMA Hospitality Suite at Nissan Stadium. Working the room were Ashley Cranford, Cheri Cranford, Terri Walker, Christy Walker-Watkins & Matt Watkins, Biff Watson, Ted Ellis and Tim Wipperman.

Larry McCormick and Rick Diamond headed for the photo pit while Mike Craft, Zach Farnum, Elizabeth Motley, Metro Nashville COO Rich Riebeling, Edie Emery and Lon Helton commenced schmoozing.

Charley Pride. Photo: Natasha Moustache

They and the 65,000 fans in the house were royally entertained. The yodeling Walmart kid, Mason Ramsey, proved he can really, really sing by delivering a flawless, a cappella “Star Spangled Banner” to inaugurate the evening’s music. Hall of Famer Charley Pride, 80, proved that age is but a number with a peppy, bopping set.

Wearing a groovy, Mariota/Titans No. 8 jersey, Brett Young delivered sensitive ballads and tempo tunes with equal aplomb. Incidentally, the tattoo inscription on his right forearm reads, “If it feels like home, follow its path.”

Garbed in a vivid, red western shirt, Jake Owen sang “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” on a mid-field mini stage. By contrast, Luke Combs was practically invisible on the main stage due to his all-black outfit. Only his omni-present Red Solo Cup distinguished him from the stagehands. Vocally, he was solidly country, and the audience sang along with every word.

Jake Owen.

Blake Shelton drove the fans wild with his wits and sing-along hits. He received a ton of media attention during the fest because of the official opening of his Ole Red mega honky-tonk on Lower Broadway.

But poor Jason Aldean was barely noticed when he opened his honky-tonk across the street. This was because its interior construction was barely finished in time to meet a fest-opening deadline. Thus, no publicizing plans could be made. Blake had a “soft” opening weeks ago.

Also at the stadium on Friday night, Old Dominion continued the fan enthusiasm. Carrie Underwood (a.k.a The Queen of CMA Fest) blazed brightly as the day’s finale act, outfitted in a sequined green romper. Fest vendors sold crystal “tears” to be glued to your cheeks in solidarity with Carrie’’s torrid smash “Cry Pretty.”

Carrie Underwood. Photo: Natasha Moustache

The industry schmoozing in the CMA suite reached its zenith on Saturday (June 9). The blizzard of fabulons included Dave Brainard, Frank Myers, Wayne & Pat Halper, Silverfish Media’s Patrick Thomas (of Big D & Bubba fame), Alecia Davis, Jason Neufeldt, Laura Crawford, Metro councilman Freddie O’Connell (whose downtown district houses the fest), Stephanie Teatro, Sherod Robertson, Brian Schwenk and Stuart Dill.

Singer-songwriter Jenny Tolman was in respite mode, in between her CMA Fest showcases on Friday and Sunday. David Pick told me about his Vintage TV, England’s leading music channel that will soon launch in the U.S. Ed Benson was there, too: He’s one of the dwindling few who attended Fan Fair in its original location at Municipal Auditorium.

The Property Brothers greeted us from the stage. “We’re glad to be here with you tonight; the more noise the better,” said Drew Scott — or was it his twin brother Jonathan Scott? Next, crimson-clad Jillian Jaqueline essayed the National Anthem to begin the musical entertainment.

Garth Brooks surprises fans with a performance Saturday, June 9 on the CMA Close Up Stage at Xfinity Fan Fair X during CMA Fest. Photo: Natasha Moustache

Lee Ann Womack’s set emphasized the tunes from her new hit Americana CDs, but tossed in the 1962 George Jones classic “(An Empty Bottle, a Broken Heart and) You’re Still on My Mind.” Her ethos was underscored via a powder-blue Hank Williams T-shirt.

Even so, it was CMA New Artist of the Year Jon Pardi who turned in the most solidly country set of the fest’s Nissan shows. Resplendent in a multi-hued, Southwestern-patterned shirt and white cowboy hat, he included his sublime MusicRow Song of the Year nominee “She Ain’t in It.”

The jumbo screen showed a tease/preview of Sugarland’s “Babe” video, which featured a red-wigged Taylor Swift as the plot’s vixen. Following a pattern set by Thursday’s Carly Pearce and Friday’s Jake Owen, there was a solo-song slot, “Downtown’s Dead” by Sam Hunt.

Chris Stapleton. Photo: John Russell.

Dustin Lynch, Kelsea Ballerini, Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban served up their signature sounds to close the show. The fans cheerfully sang an absent Carrie Underwood’s part during Urban’s performance of “The Fighter.” The star concluded his crowd-pleasing set well past midnight.

Of course the big news on Saturday wasn’t at the stadium. Garth Brooks turned up at the Music City Center to chat and sing on the CMA Close-Up Stage.

The health report was good at this point in the fest. The heat collapses/incidents numbered 69 on Thursday, 92 on Friday and 79 on Saturday. This tally is lower than last year’s.

Brett Young. Photo: Donn Jones

Back in the CMA suite on Sunday (June 10), Brett WoolcottLydia Lenker, Mike Vaden, Bill Denny and suite stalwart Dennis Banka were working the room. Municipal Auditorium manager Bob Skoney was there, too. He shared that he’s now been with that facility for 41 years. That deserves a “wow” in an industry where nobody keeps the same job for an entire career.

A new addition to the suite this year was a population of fluttering moths. Guests amused themselves by capturing them, swatting them or stomping them. The insects also dive-bombed the stadium spectators.

“We’ve got some surprises for you tonight,” said show host Storme Warren slyly. He also had some calendar advice: “ABC-TV, Aug. 8, 8 p.m. Set your DVR’s now.”

Keith Urban. Photo: Donn Jones

Ray Stevens was Sunday’s National Anthem performer. Ricky Skaggs left the fans gasping for breath as he concluded his set with fiery picking on “Country Boy.” Brett Eldredge bounced out to the strains of his new single “Love Someone.” Clad in a crisp white shirt/jacket, he charmed the crowd with “The Long Way” and had them lighting their phones during “Wanna Be That Song.”

Cole Swindell offered his new heartache ballad “In the End” as the Sunday solo spot. The first surprise guest was Thomas Rhett, whose set was highlighted by a languid, lovelorn rendition of “Marry Me,” his jaunty, autobiographical “Life Changes” and a twinkling, stadium-lit “Die a Happy Man.”

Dierks Bentley rocked the house with “I Hold On” and more. He also brought out the night’s second surprise, Dwight Yoakam, who offered a thunderously received “Fast As You.” A third surprise was Brothers Osborne on “Burning Man.” They get the award for pinpoint scheduling. Following their barn-burning Thursday fest set, they zipped south to perform at Bonnaroo, then back.

The CMA hospitality buzzed with excitement as the evening reached a crescendo with Florida Georgia Line. FGL’s “surprise” guests were Bebe Rexha, Morgan Wallen and The Backstreet Boys. Fest closer Luke Bryan serenaded Randy Travis.

Another music-biz hotspot is the Green Room in the Music City Center. Sunday’s visitors schmoozing there included Terry McBride, Don Murry Grubbs, Restless Heart, Buddy Kalb, T.G. Sheppard, Devon O’Day, Bobby Bare and Chris Young.

CMA fest may be over, but we will continue our eternal Music Row merriment this week as we celebrate accomplishments by Kane Brown, Tony Brown, Hillary Williams and David Davis & The Warrior River Boys. Onward!

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