It was a balmy 85 degree evening in Nashville Thursday night (June 7), only made hotter by the extraordinary talent that took the main stage at Nissan Stadium to mark the official kick off of CMA Fest.
The evening began with a harmonizing rendition of the national anthem performed by the legendary Oak Ridge Boys, who couldn’t leave the stage without singing their ever-popular song, “Elvira.” “We need a couple of choruses of ‘Elvira’ to get this thing started,” Joe Bonsall yelled from the stage. And with that, the crowd was brought to their feet.
Taking the stage after the Oaks was “Nashville’s” Chip Esten, a.k.a. Deacon Clayborne. The hunky actor/singer kicked off his set with a song appropriate for the warm weather, called “Hot One.”
“Thank you for having me out here and thank you to the fans for watching ‘Nashville’ for six seasons,” Chip said. It was then that the 52-year-old invited fellow cast mates, Jonathon Jackson (Avery Barkley), Chris Carmack (Will Lexington) and Lennon and Maisy Stella (Maddie and Daphne, respectively) to join him on stage for a cover of Eli Young Band’s “Even if It Breaks Your Heart.” He went on to perform “Sanctuary” with Lennon & Maisy, only to have Jonathon and Chris return for “A Life That’s Good.”
As Chip got the crowd warmed up, it was Kane Brown’s turn to take the stage. Debuting on the main CMA Fest stage, Kane took the opportunity to share a little about himself. The young singer let the crowd know he had a pretty rough childhood and that he has experienced racism in his life, but we should all stick together.
“It doesn’t matter if your black or white, red or green, we all gotta have each other’s backs. I wrote this song because I know everyone’s been through something in their life and I want you to know you can overcome it,” Kane said before launching into “Learning.”
Kane got the crowd singing along as he continued with his hits “What’s Mine is Yours” and “Heaven.” But it was when Lauren Alaina joined her friend on stage for their No. 1 hit, “What Ifs,” that the audience exploded with excitement that rivaled that of the two stars on stage. Kane also debuted his brand new single, “Lose It,” in front of the packed crowd.
Following Kane, Carly Pearce emerged amongst the audience to perform her current single, “Hide the Wine.” Throughout the night, Kelsea Ballerini and Thomas Rhett, who were announced as returning hosts for a three-hour highlight special on ABC, were recording segments during the show. CMA Fest will air Wednesday, August 8th, at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
After a band change, Dan + Shay made their debut appearance on the Nissan Stadium main stage. “Nashville you look beautiful tonight. Are you ready to have a good night?” Shay said. After performing several of their mid-tempo songs, including “19 You and Me,” “Nothing Like You,” “How Not To” and “From the Ground Up,” Shay hit the mic asking if the audience wanted “to pick this party up a little bit,” before launching into Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Fight the Feeling” and their current hit “Tequila.”
“CMA Fest we love you so much. Thank you for one of the best nights of our entire lives,” Shay said.
Before his set, Darius Rucker shared a partial preview of his new video for “Straight To Hell,” which he recorded with pals Charles Kelley, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean. He then came to the stage for one of the highlight performances of the night, performing hits, “Homegrown Honey,” “For the First Time,” “Alright” and “Comeback Song.” The South Carolina native tried out a brand new song, “Put Your Hands on Me,” to the delight of the crowd. But it was the closing song, “Wagon Wheel,” that left the audience wanting more.
It was time for the Brothers Osborne to take the stage and they kicked their set off with their hit song, “Ain’t My Fault.” TJ let the crowd know what was coming next. “We’re gonna play some new songs off our album we just put out called Port Saint Joe. And with that, the brothers let it rip on “Drank Like Hank,” “Weed, Whiskey and Willie,” “I Don’t Remember Me” and “Shoot Me Straight,” where John Osborne took the crowd home with a slamming guitar solo, before closing it out with
“Stay a Little Longer.”
Getting his start late into the night, Jason Aldean, made the exhausted CMA Fest goers forget how tired they really were. The superstar commanded the stage playing hit after hit ,including “Lights Come On” “Tattoos On This Town,” “Dirt Road Anthem” and “My Kinda Party.” Ever the professional, Jason didn’t let a technical issue during “She’s Country” stop him from entertaining the thousands of fans hanging on every note.
“That’s a new version of that song you haven’t heard yet,” he said before closing out the show with fan favorite, “Hicktown.”
And in a flash, Day 1 of CMA Music Fest was in the books.