Bobby Karl Works The Room: 2019 CMA Fest Day One

Kelsea Ballerini performs at Nissan Stadium on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. Photo: Courtesy CMA

BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM

Chapter 621

It looks like the 2019 CMA Fest is going to be one for the record books, and I don’t mean attendance.

The record I’m talking about is, “Wettest CMA Fest in history.”

On opening day on Thursday (June 6), it drizzled lightly all day long. This did not deter the merry makers on Music Row, where SunTrust’s annual Hot Dog Day had a capacity crowd. Nor did it deter the downtown concert goers from grooving to the sounds.

Billy Currington performs at the Chevy Riverfront Stage on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. Photo: Courtesy CMA

Billy Currington launched the festivities at Riverfront Park at 10 a.m. with “Don’t It.” Also that morning, Miranda Lambert held her Mutt March puppy parade downtown. She was joined by Dan Smyers of Dan + Shay, plus her new hubby, Brendan McLoughlin, and roughly 1,000 pet lovers.

Pictured (L-R): Beverly June Hughes, Miranda Lambert, Dan Smyers, Abby Smyers at the #MuttNationMarch. Photo: Facebook/Miranda Lambert

Inside the mercifully dry Music City Center, Miranda once again staged her dog-adoption booth at Fan Fair X. I have a feeling that this venue’s indoor stages are going to be particularly popular this year.

Tens of thousands donned plastic ponchos to brave the rain that fell throughout most of the debut show that night at Nissan Stadium. Many others trouped into the East Bank venue with no rain gear at all.

Following the National Anthem performance by students from the Nashville School of the Arts, Sarah Trahern and Mayor David Briley declared the Fest officially open. Enduringly great legend Tanya Tucker kicked things off with “It’s a Little Too Late.”

Tanya’s daughters Presley Tucker and Layla Laseter sang backup for their mom. So did Brandi Carlile, who co-produced Tanya’s new album with Shooter Jennings. She harmonized splendidly on the legend’s affecting new single, “The Wheels of Laredo,” and the two women duetted on the set-closing “Delta Dawn.”

Tanya did a splendid job, which was all the more admirable since she was stepping in at the last minute to substitute for Marty Stuart. Just hours before showtime, Marty cancelled, citing a “personal family matter” as the cause.

Tanya Tucker performs with Brandi Carlile at Nissan Stadium on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. Photo: Courtesy CMA

By the time Kane Brown hit the stage, it was pouring rain. He sang from the heart on the ballad “Homesick,” which was a standout tune of his set. Everyone sang along during his finale, “Good As You.”

From this point on, the concert was characterized by interminable waits between acts. Midland performed its latest, “Mr. Lonely” on a pocket stage in the midst of the crowd.

Midland performs at Nissan Stadium on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. Photo: Courtesy CMA

Next up was Kelsea Ballerini. She opened with “Peter Pan” and hit a high point with a stomping treatment of “I Miss Me More.” The set closer was another highlight, her “This Feeling” collaboration with surprise guests The Chainsmokers. Kelsea and Thomas Rhett will be cohosting the Aug. 4 ABC-TV special about the fest. This will be their second year in this role.

When it wasn’t raining, it was drizzling. But the fan enthusiasm never flagged. We were ever so glad to be high and dry in the CMA Hospitality Suite.

The schmoozing there was cranked up to 10, no matter who was on stage below us. R.J. Curtis, Neal Spielberg, Debbie Linn, Joe Galante, Dennis Banka, Chuck Aly and JoAnn Berry were working the room.

Zach Farnum arrived with Randy Travis. After we embraced, Randy’s wife Mary reported that the Country Music Hall of Famer had spent two hours in the Fan Fair hall, meeting and greeting throngs of folks that afternoon.

Steve Buchanan had his new management client in tow, new Sony signee and Thursday’s Broadway stage standout Colin Elmore. He’s a singer-songwriter who hails from central Missouri, a region that has previously given us Porter Wagoner, Jan Howard, Don Warden and other greats. Long, tall Colin writes for Steve’s ex, publisher Ree Guyer, and is working with producer Marshall Altman.  

Meanwhile, suite denizens Heather McBee, Becky Brenner, Jeremy Bradford, Brett Woolcott, Steve O’Brien, Ellen May and Sherod Robertson kept an eye on the weather and an ear on the music. Larry McCormick, Lauren Tingle, Cindy Watts, Jason Kempin and an international press corps kept tabs, too.

Brothers Osborne performs at Nissan Stadium on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. Photo: Courtesy CMA

Here’s one reason to have hope for the country genre: The music of Brothers Osborne. Lead singer T.J. Osborne is a natural-born frontman, as well an expressive vocalist. Brother John Osborne’s guitar work is up there with the finest. The siblings came out with guns blazing in the one-two volley of  “Stay a Little Longer” and “Shoot Me Straight.”

Their surprise guests were Brooks & Dunn. T.J. and Ronnie Dunn swapped vocals on “Hard Working Man.” Then Kix Brooks was joined by Ashley McBryde. Ashley, Kix and Ronnie took “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” out for a harmony-drenched spin. The Osbornes closed with that ultimate set closer, “It Ain’t My Fault.”

Brooks and Dunn and Ashley McBryde perform at Nissan Stadium on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. Photo: Courtesy CMA

This music evidently connected with the heavens, because the rain eased up around 11 p.m. But due to the long delays between acts, there were still two headliners left to play.

Rascal Flatts performed mostly classics. Fans went wild for “I Like the Sound of That,” “Life Is a Highway,” “Praying for Daylight” and more.

“This rain ain’t gonna stop us,” proclaimed the group’s Joe Don Rooney. “We’re going to party all night long.” By that time, it was after midnight and raining again.

Florida Georgia Line closed the night with country-boy charm and guest appearances by Morgan Wallen and HARDY. “Cruise,” “Meant to Be,” “Up Down,” “This Is How We Roll” and other faves rocked the soaked fans.

“You can’t keep a bunch of hard-headed rednecks from standing in the rain,” observed T.J. Osborne.

By Friday morning, the rain had become a downpour. Due to lightning and thunder in the area, the opening of the downtown outdoor venues was delayed. Flash-flood warnings were posted. Forecasters were predicting a deluge for that night’s Nissan show. Like I said, this will be one for the record books.

Rascal Flatts perform at Nissan Stadium on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. Photo: Courtesy CMA

Florida Georgia Line performs at Nissan Stadium on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. performs at Nissan Stadium on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. Photo: Courtesy CMA

Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker perform at Nissan Stadium on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. vperforms at Nissan Stadium on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. Photo: Courtesy CMA

Kane Brown performs at Nissan Stadium on Thursday, June 6 during the 2019 CMA Music Festival in downtown Nashville. Photo: Courtesy CMA

Pictured (L-R): Sony Music Nashville’s Ed Rivadavia (VP Digital Strategy), Liz Cost (Artist Team Lead), Maverick Management’s Marne McLyman, Kix Brooks, Ronnie Dunn, Sony Music Nashville’s Lauren Thomas (Director of National Promotion), Arista Nashville’s  Josh Easler (VP Promotion), Sony Music Nashville’s Scott Stachelski (VP Finance). Photo: John Shearer

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