BORN Country’s First Ever CMA Fest Is One For The History Books
Wow. Right off of the bat, I want to say that if you love country music and live concerts, you MUST experience CMA Fest in Nashville, TN at least once in your lifetime. However, I must warn you; If you do go once, you’ll never want to miss it again!
We are now only a few days removed from my first time taking in CMA Fest. It was incredibly hot in Music City all week and it was hectic at times attempting to reach every stage in order to see each artist that I had hoped to see, but it was an absolute blast. On top of that, Nashville Predator Fever was running wild! For those who were not able to attend this year’s festivities, I have journaled my adventure and will lay it all out for you here. If you have any questions about next years CMA Fest, which runs June 7th – June 10th, 2018, feel free to ask them in the comments below or visit CMAFest.com!
CMA FEST: DAY ONE
My first official day of CMA Fest began with a Lyft ride from Franklin, TN to downtown Nashville. I went straight to Music City Center as the great Martina McBride was due on the CMA Close Up Stage at 10AM. This stage is located inside with A/C, so if at any point you may be getting to warm out there, this isn’t a bad place to find yourself! However, with such big names appearing at this stage, make sure you get there early! The seating area was already PACKED for Martina, so I found myself a place to stand before the show began.
I learned quickly that an artist being on this stage doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be performing. I was very hopeful to catch a close up performance from Martina, but it turned out to be a live interview. Sure, I was a little disappointed that she wouldn’t be singing “Wild Angels” or a number of her other great hits, but this was still incredibly interesting. McBride discussed her upbringing, how she got into music and landing her record deal. There was even a great story about how she found out that certain radio stations wouldn’t be playing her hit, “Independence Day,” so she decided to make personal phone calls to find out why. Martina also touched on the humor in many fans calling in to request “Independence Day” every year on July 4th.
It was time for me to take in some great live music. That’s what we’re all here for, right? Before heading to the outdoor stages, I popped over to the Durango Stage to take in a song from Dolly’s sister, Stella Parton. The Durango Stage is home for some of the great legends of country music. While I didn’t spend a lot of time here due to my own personal schedule, it’s definitely worth it to do a once over on the schedule to ensure that you don’t miss out on what could be a once in a lifetime show.
Once I made my way out of Music City Center, I made my way down Demonbruen Street to the brand new Budweiser Forever Country Stage. This stage primarily focusses on artists of the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s: In other words, my bread and butter. When I arrived, early 90’s favorite, Confederate Railroad were taking to the stage. Many of these performances will only last approximately 30 minutes, so make sure you know where you are going (MAP!) so that you don’t miss a single song. On the plus side, with such a short time period, you can pretty much guarantee that you will be getting nothing but the hits! Sounding as great as ever, Confederate Railroad had the crowd dancing to “Queen Of Memphis,” “Notorious,” “Elvis And Andy” and even took time to slow it down a bit with “Jesus And Mama” and “Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind.”
Next up was something very special. Tracy Lawrence hosts a weekly radio show titled “Honky Tonkin’ With Tracy Lawrence.” If it doesn’t air in your area, get the WSM Online app. Trust me. Anyhow, Lawrence brought his show to the Forever Country Stage. While some may have been disappointed that Tracy wasn’t performing every song, it’s hard to argue that the guests that he had brought along more than made up for it! Joe Diffie, Michael Ray, Deana Carter, Gretchen Wilson, William Michael Morgan and the great Lee Greenwood all had time to perform a hit or two of their own and even a few Tracy Lawrence covers. This extended set wrapped up with Tracy, William and Deana all joining in with Greenwood to sing “God Bless The U.S.A.” Now if that isn’t a great kickoff to a weekend full of country music, I don’t know what is!
As I mentioned, the Forever Country Stage would be the spot that I’d spend the majority of my CMA Fest at. Following the Tracy Lawrence And Friends set, Daryle Singletary and the “New Queen Of Bluegrass,” Rhonda Vincent were set to perform a number of duets from their upcoming album, American Grandstand. If you are reading this, it’s very likely that I don’t have to convince you to buy this album, BUT… BUY THIS ALBUM! Daryle is one of the best country music voices out there today and you combine that with Rhonda?! Please just TAKE MY MONEY!
The Budweiser Forever Country Stage was not the only new addition to this year’s CMA Fest. A few blocks down, stood the Bud Dome, which from the outside looks like an inflatable igloo. Now all of the signs pointing towards this new stage boasted the air conditioning that one would find inside. I don’t know if I just picked out the performances that created the most heat or what, but man it was STILL hot in there! My first experience at the Bud Dome would be a fantastic performance by 90’s country favorite, Mark Collie! I had seen Mark perform last fall at Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop and he was just awesome. This time was no different as hit mixed in a taste of rockabilly to his strong country sound. Being a new stage, the crowd had yet to really discover the Bud Dome, but when Collie began his performance of “Even The Man In The Moon Is Crying,” I knew I was right where I wanted to be!
After a hurried walk back to the Forever Country Stage, I was able to catch the back half of Mark Wills set. I had never had the opportunity to see Wills perform, but after getting just a taste, I will be sure that next time he comes through town, I’ll be there with baited breath! Following Mark on the Forever Country Stage was a 30 minute set by true legends of the country music world. David and Howard Bellamy performed a number of their classic hits such as “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me,” “Let Your Love Flow” and “Redneck Girl.” The Bellamy Brothers were one of the few acts that could be caught on numerous stages over the weekend, so I immediately penciled in a second performance to come later that day!
For the final show on the Forever Country Stage of Day One, I would finally get a chance to see Lonestar perform! I am still a huge fan of their first album, featuring “No News,” “Tequila Talkin'” and others! Though there wasn’t time for Richie McDonald and the boys to perform everything I wanted to hear, they still sound just as incredible today as they ever did. While Richie briefly left the group a few years back, I can’t say enough how glad I am that he made his return. “My Front Porch Looking In” just wouldn’t be the same without him!
Before continuing on with official CMA Fest performances, I made what was likely the longest on foot trek that I made all week. I booked it from the Forever Country Stage clear across downtown to a little bar called Alley Taps, which as you may guess, is located in an alley. Here, I would finally take in a performance by a favorite artist of my childhood, Wade Hayes! Besides the strange situation involving employees moving a freezer into the kitchen during the middle of Wade’s set, (unbelievable) he sounded fantastic! Wade had performed at the above mentioned Durango Stage earlier in the day, and I must say, I wish I had caught him then instead. This is not a shot on Wade’s set at all, but just the venue situation itself. Alley Taps seems like a great spot for a meal and drinks, but blocking the stage during a show was a real turn-off. Nevertheless, Wade has an all-new album out titled Old Country Song and you NEED a copy of it! Songwriters on the new record include Mark Collie, Don Cook, Wade himself and even Chris Stapleton!
After taking in Wade’s performances of new songs and a favorite in “Old Enough To Know Better,” I packed up my camera at Alley Taps and shot over for the second appearance of the Bellamy Brothers at a third new stage in John Rich’s Redneck Riviera. John will be opening a new bar in the next year, and this stage was located just around the corner from the future location. Rich even hosted the stage all week long, joining in on the occasional song.
Though I experienced just a tease of Deana Carter’s music earlier on in the day at the Forever Country Stage, she was due up for a 30 minute set back at the Bud Dome. She of course played “Strawberry Wine” again along with “We Danced Anyway,” “Did I Shave My Legs For This,” and her rendition of “You And Tequila,” which she wrote with Matraca Berg, and is very appreciative to have had it be made a hit by Kenny Chesney. This would not be the last I see of Ms. Carter! Side Note: Bud Dome was still hot.
After all of the day stages began to wrap up and a massive crowd began filing to Nissan Stadium for performances by Kenny Rogers, Mirand Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan and others, I made my way to Ascend Amphitheater. I really liked this stage as it reminded me a lot of Blossom Music Center back home in the Cleveland, OH area. A large stage with rows of chairs and a grassy sitting area just beyond the cement, this seemed to be the perfect place to settle in for a few hours music to wrap up the evening.
Up first was a real special treat as I FINALLY had my first chance to see the legendary Oak Ridge Boys perform! I’ve always enjoyed listening to their music, but I had no clue how active these guys would be onstage during their set! Most notably, tenor, Joe Bonsall. I don’t think there was a single moment that these guys weren’t moving from one of the stage to another! While I’m sure that the Nissan Stadium crowd were going wild for Luke Bryan’s latest hit, there is absolutely something special in an entire amphitheater crowd singing along to “Elvira.” I’ll be honest, the song has still been stuck in my head and it’s almost a week after the fact!
Once again, and still not my final time seeing her perform over the weekend, Deana Carter made her way to the Ascend Amphitheater stage. This was pretty much the same set as what I took in at the Bud Dome, but even after already experiencing two previous performances of “Strawberry Wine,” it was like the first time all over again! While Carter has a number of other hits under her belt and consistently sounds fantastic live, “Strawberry Wine” is easily one of the greatest songs of the 90’s decade.
I don’t know how many of you had the chance to see Billy Ray Cyrus perform live during the 90’s when his career was really hot, but I have to imagine that the reaction Thursday night’s crowd gave him has to be pretty close to those days. Cyrus hit the stage and that crowd just erupted! Billy performed his new song that he wrote in celebration of the Nashville Predator’s current (at the time) success in the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, “It Could’ve Been Me,” “Some Gave All” and of course, “Achy Breaky Heart,” which I couldn’t believe wasn’t his closing song! Billy’s daughter Brandi and Mark Collie each joined in onstage for performances while Miley even surprisingly took in the show from a side stage balcony. Billy Ray closed out his set with “Words By Heart” which is easily one of my favorite hits of his. Though I would have loved to see him perform “Wher’m I Gonna Live?,” I guess I’ll just have to make sure to catch one of his full length shows down the line!
Closing out the first night of CMA Fest 2017, Big Kenny and John Rich, collectively known as Big & Rich brought their unique country music stylings to the amphitheater. Known for their wild party anthems like “Comin’ To Your City,” “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” and tender love songs like “Lost In This Moment,” the highlight of their set was their ritual of bringing out a member of the U.S. Military to the stage to speak, show support for our country and of course, sharing a shot of whiskey.