“You’ll have the opportunity to see a lot of concerts this week. However, there is a difference between a concert and a show. Tonight, we guarantee that you will see the very best show during all of CMA Fest right here, at The Ryman.”
After Connie Smith performed “America The Beautiful” on the Ryman stage, Eddie Stubbs informed the packed room that this would be different than any other night during CMA Fest week. For many, this would go without question. What better location in all of Nashville to spend four hours listening to some of the greatest artists in the world perform than that of the Mother Church of Country Music?
Marty Stuart’s 16th Annual Late Night Jam kicked off with the man himself and of course, the best dressed band in all of country music, The Fabulous Superlatives! Stuart performed a number of songs from their most recent album, Way Out West, followed by “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'”. Now, this Late Night Jam has been known to have surprise guests show up and despite having nothing on his calendar for CMA Fest, I thought that this would for sure be an appearance from Travis Tritt. No dice.
This evening’s lineup did however include a number of music legends from the great Booker T. Jones and guitar wizard Tommy Emmanuel, to comic Gary Mule Deer, rockabilly star James Intveld and recently announced Country Music Hall-Of-Famer Don Schlitz (performing his iconic “The Gambler,” made famous by Kenny Rogers). Opry favorites made appearances, including Stuart’s wife, the wonderful Connie Smith, The Whites, The Grand Ole Opry Square Dancers and LeRoy Troy.
While there were legends aplenty, modern day artists were given time to shine as well. Singer-songwriter Ashely McBryde and rock band The Wild Feathers, among others all brought their own incredible sounds to the Ryman stage.
Possibly the most well known name on the guest list, was Wynonna Judd. Wynonna performed a number of songs from her most recent album, joined by her band, The Big Noise. Not to leave her fans disappointed, Judd also mixed in some of her biggest career hits including “No One Else On Earth.”
However, the biggest moment of the night came when Rhiannon Giddens was joined onstage by Booker T., Marty Stuart and The Fabulous Superlatives in an amazing rendition of The Staple Singers classic, “Freedom Highway.” There are great performances and then there are those you know you will never forget. Giddens’ proved this particular one to be the latter. While something like this could never truly be captured in a Youtube video or on an audio CD, you can get a little taste of what the Ryman crowd were treated to in Rhiannon’s solo performance on her latest album, also titled Freedom Highway.
Though I couldn’t imagine beginning CMA Fest any other way, part of me wishes that this event took place at the end of the week as nothing else could possibly compare. I can tell you right now that if you intend to be in Nashville for CMA Fest in 2018, be absolutely sure to book a day in advance so that you can attend Marty’s Late Night Jam next year. Don’t worry about the lineup. You will NOT regret it.