by S. Parks
crowds were bursting with anticipation as they took their seats for the
first concert in the CMA Fest series at LP Field.  The very
appreciative Luke Bryan, with a smile that could be seen from the back
row, rolled through his hits and rocked the fans out of their seats with
one sing-a-long hit after another.  Taylor Swift’s set began with her
premiere country hit, “Tim McGraw” and Tim walked onto the stage to join
her in their current “Highway Don’t Care”.  Keith Urban then made it a
threesome with a classic Urban guitar solo.  We were quickly reminded
why we love the concerts – it’s the surprises we wait for.
Church delighted the fans and Miranda Lambert was as feisty as ever
with her red microphone and sequined flames across her chest singing
“Mama’s Broken Heart”.  Zac Brown Band closed the show with Kid Rock and
Kenny Rogers, leaving the fans anticipating the coming shows even more.
second LP Field show began with Randy Travis, much to the delight of
the old school country fans.  The very talented Kip Moore was head over
heels with joy to be able to perform for his fans at the Festival.  In
his red Rolling Stones T-shirt, he covered the massive stage with
“Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck“, “Beer Money“ and “Hey Pretty Girl“.  
always show-stopping Little Big Town did just that by opening their set
in the center of the floor seats before taking us on a family harmony
whirlwind tour of their number ones including “Pontoon”, “Tornado“ and
“Boondocks“, leaving no question as to why they hold numerous awards.
 They brought out surprise guest, Sheryl Crow for “Easy“ and her own
“Soak Up The Sun“. 
Future country superstar,
award winner and heart throb, Hunter Hayes, floored us with a classic
Ray Davies high jump and owned the CMA stage with “I Want Crazy“. His
surprises included Sheryl Crow and pop star Jason Mraz, who joined him
on “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me”.  Jason had commented earlier at
the press conference backstage that he appreciates, and is inspired by,
the songwriting community in Nashville and finds that in the pop world,
many artists live in their own bubble and miss the joy of collaboration.
Lady Antebellum owned the night with one hit
after another, most leading to an audience sing-a-long.  “I Run to You“
began with a stunning a cappella opening, further enduring Lady A as
one of the finest harmony groups in country music.  Dave, Charles and
Hillary charmed us with “Need You Now”, took us “Downtown” and left us
“Looking for a Good Time”.
Blake Shelton wound
up the audience with “Footloose”.  He was backed by Gwen Sebastian, an
artist from his TV show, “The Voice”.  The audience sang along with
“Boys ‘Round Here” and, in true Blake fashion, he told his fans, since
they were still standing and dancing after midnight, “You must be
hillbillies”, as an intro to “Hillbilly Bone“.  He was presented with
two commemorative plaques for album sales, one for his “Red River Blue“
Just when you think this fantasyland ride through country music couldn’t get any better, Saturday night came.  
superstars, The Oak Ridge Boys, who had made many appearances
throughout the Festival, had the crowd singing with “Elvira” and
“American Made”.  They sang “Same Ole Me” and welcomed George Jones’
wife, Nancy, who thanked the band for recording and singing their Jones
duet for George.  She said “I know he’s looking down and smiling right
Tyler and Brian of Florida Georgia Line
were amazed at how far they had come in a year and gave the crowd what
they wanted – their new single, “Round Here”, “Cruise”, and “Get Your
Shine On”.  They hip-hopped through “Itz Just What We Do” to screams
from their new fans.  Then major surprise guest, rocker Lenny Kravitz,
played a set featuring “Always on the Run“ and “Let Love Rule“ and Jason
Aldean joined him for “American Woman“.  
Bentley generously gave us bouncing beach balls with “Free and Easy”
and bluegrass with “Up on the Ridge”.  He introduced hit songwriter
Hillary Lindsey for a duet of her co-write, “Bourbon in Kentucky” and
then “What Was I Thinking” and “Home“, with a meaningful message of how
he either has visited, or will visit, each of the fans in their own
hometowns.  Dierks added, “You guys are the reason we get to do what we
Kelly Clarkson played her first official
set at “a country thing”, as she put it.  Her excitement was contagious
and it was easy to see why we voted her the first winner of American
Idol when she sang “Stronger”, “Don’t Rush” and “Because of You”.  Jason
Aldean added Kelly to his surprise entrances for their Number One duet,
“Don’t You Wanna Stay”.  Blowing us away with Garth Brooks’ “Ain’t
Going Down Til the Sun Comes Up”, it went to an even higher level when
Trisha Yearwood walked on to share the song.
Urban shouted, “Thank you Nashville” and brought the house down.  He
gifted us with “You Gonna Fly”, “Stupid Boy”, “Long Hot Summer”, and
“Little Bit of Everything”, all featuring surreal guitar solos, classic
Urban stage charisma and trademark smiles to light the arena.  The
audience sang along to crowd-pleaser, “You Look Good in My Shirt”,
drowning out the fireworks going off around the stadium.  Not to break
from his customary performance style, he leaped into the audience,
weaving through the fans in the floor seats and gave his guitar to a
grateful fan.  We watched as cameras followed him leaving the arena
while his band continued to play.  
On the
grand finale show of the festival, the audience was hoping for a full
set from Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan after their stunning rendition of
the National Anthem.  These girls, who grew up backstage at the Opry
with their equally famous fathers, will be out on the road with their
“Grits and Glamour” tour to promote their new “Dos Divas” release.  Then
Lee Greenwood raised 60,000 fans to their feet to sing along with “God
Bless the USA”.  The evening was off to a great start.  
impending stormy weather was almost scored with “Every Storm (Runs out
of Rain)” by Gary Allan who also tore up the stage with “It Ain’t the
Whiskey” and “Pieces”, his latest release.
with Brad Paisley, artists were cut short in their performances due to
the storm threat.  A surprise walk-on by his “Karate” duet partner
Charlie Daniels, who also shared some “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”,
seemed to set the true country tone of the event.  Always a fan
favorite, Brad closed with “Beat This Summer”.
rush continued with a Lumineers’ cover from Lennon and Maisey from TV’s
“Nashville” and went on to The Band Perry, who played their two
hottest, but darkest numbers with superb stage presentations.  Jake Owen
followed with “Anywhere With You“, only to find it would be his only
song that evening.  Jake was happy to be invited to play his full
concert set later for his fans on the Bobby Bones radio show. 
are used to hearing Martina McBride’s voice take wings and fly over the
arena crowd into Heaven in this closing slot of the festival, but this
year it was the completely amazing Carrie Underwood who drew the honor.
 Her humility was evident as she proclaimed, “We’re going to play as
many songs as we possibly can,“ rather than commenting that “she” would
sing as many songs as she could.  She rocked the crowd out of their
seats with steady cams spinning around her as she shattered all memories
of Guns and Roses’ version of “Paradise City” with her performance.
 Brad Paisley joined her for their “Remind Me” duet and she couldn’t
leave even this short performance without belting “Before He Cheats”,
much to the fans’ delight, and send them home from the 2013 CMA Fest
singing about bathroom Polo and Louisville Sluggers and wondering what
2014 will bring.    (See also “Country Music’s Biggest Party – The More
(Concerts), the Merrier” by S. Parks)

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