BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
The weather played cat-and-mouse with Day Two of this year’s CMA Music Fest.
The opening of the outdoor stages on Friday (June 7) was delayed because of rain and nearby lightning. But things got underway at last around 11 a.m. The Chevy Riverfront Stage was at capacity by mid afternoon. The venue remained packed throughout the three successive performances by Jordan Davis, Morgan Wallen and Hunter Hayes.
At Fan Fair X in the Music City Center, Old Dominion also appeared before a capacity crowd. They were the CMA Close-Up Stage headliners of the day. In the HGTV Lodge, fans were shoulder-to-shoulder for “A Very Brady Chat.” This starred TV celebs Maureen McCormick (Marcia), Barry Williams (Greg) and Susan Olsen (Cindy). Nostalgia abounded.
At the Nashville Acoustic Corner Stage, Blanco Brown staged one of his several CMA Fest appearances. He’s a social-media phenom with his “The Git Up” song and line dance. It’s another one of those country-rap fusions. He calls it “trailer trap.”
LOCASH had everyone singing along at the Radio Disney Country Stage. It always impresses me how well the fans seem to know every lyric to every country song.
Everything was going so well. Then storms returned about 4:30 p.m., forcing the cancellation of the late afternoon outdoor shows. Performances by Scotty McCreery and Gavin DeGraw were among those affected.
But Mother Nature smiled on the fest that night. By the time we headed for Nissan Stadium, skies were clear and dry. And they stayed that way throughout outstanding sets by the festival’s strongest evening lineup.
Lindsay Ell performed an impressive National Anthem to inaugurate the eve. Jo Dee Messina turned in a hit-packed set consisting of “Heads Carolina,” “I’m Alright,” “Lesson in Leavin’” and “Bye Bye.”
“I have a really great job,” she said. “I love what I do. I love all of you.” This led to a Christian-testimonial interlude and a gospel number called “Reckless Love.”
Little Big Town followed. The foursome was awesome. “Pontoon,” “Better Man” and “Boondocks” preceded a march through the crowd to the pocket stage in mid field. The entire stadium fell silent, and phones lit up everywhere to create a breathtaking light display as the group performed its profound, potent ballad “The Daughters.”
Even the schmoozing in the CMA Hospitality Suite stopped temporarily. Beverly Keel, Mayor David Briley, Biff Watson, Pat Collins, Karen Clark, Laura Crawford, Liz Rose, Mike Craft, B.J. Hill and Nathan Pyle were up there working the room. It was quite a crowd.
The Recording Academy’s Shelly Maree was experiencing her first CMA Fest. The L.A. resident was marveling at how well it is run. Staging something like this in her town would be nearly impossible, she averred.
“We do this all the time,” I said. “NFL Draft? No problem.”
Shelly was already a country fan, and her favorite new discovery that afternoon had been the one-man-band performance of Morgan Evans.
Meanwhile at Nissan, LBT concluded its set with the huge hit “Girl Crush.” The group was succeeded on the pocket stage by Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell, doing their duet “What Happens in a Small Town.”
The capacity audience of roughly 70,000 erupted when Dan + Shay appeared. They have said that headlining in this venue last year was the first moment they felt that they’d made it. Staging their second straight appearance on the festival’s stadium stage, the duo was beaming with pleasure.
“Thank you, country-music fans for changing our lives,” said Dan Smyers. “Sing along if you know the words,” he added. They did. And how.
Dan provided spot-on harmony, guitar chops and band leadership while the spectacular voice of Shay Mooney filled the massive venue. Their set was flawless, including the wildly catchy “All to Myself,” the wedding favorite “Speechless,” the lovely waltz “From the Ground Up” and the wildly popular finale “Tequila.” Suffice it to say, the boys did good.
Thomas Rhett was another big fan fave. The crowd truly came alive when he launched into “Life Changes.” He brought out surprise guest Jon Pardi to perform their new duet “Beer Can’t Fix.” Again, the stadium attendees went bonkers.
During the fest, Thomas was celebrating the release of his new CD, Center Point Road, so he featured its “Look What God Gave Her.” His set also included the unforgettable “Die a Happy Man.”
Hundreds who couldn’t get into the sold-out show gathered to listen outside the stadium gates and on the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge.
Just two weeks after selling out the stadium on his own, Eric Church returned to the scene of his triumphant, three-and-a-half-hour concert. As always, his onstage intensity drove the fans wild.
This is all the more remarkable, since he did it with a solo acoustic set. He’d given his band the night off at the last minute on Friday afternoon. Working with just his guitar, he offered a stunning, 30-minute medley of bona fide smashes.
He ranged throughout his repertoire, from the early hit “Sinners Like Me” to the current “Some Of It.” By the time he got to “Springsteen,” he had every person in the stadium in the palm of his hand.
The Queen of the Night was Carrie Underwood. The concert’s finale performer not only sang her own smashes, but brought out another fabulous surprise guest. She and rock titan Joan Jett teamed up for a run-through of Jett’s immortal “Bad Reputation,” “Crimson and Clover, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” In 2013-14, Carrie sang a rewritten version of the last named as the NFL Sunday Night Football theme “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night.” So she and Jett have a connection beyond the fact that Carrie is a huge fan.
The country superstar returned to her own catalog for “Blown Away,” “Love Wins” and the concert-closing “Before He Cheats.”
When we’d driven to the site earlier in the evening, we were behind a car with West Virginia license plates reading LOVEWINS, so I know at least one group of fans was delirious with delight about Carrie’s performance. But then, so were the rest of us.