For CMA Fest’s third night at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on Saturday (June 11), the Country Music Association turned to a cavalcade of stars, including reigning entertainer of the year Luke Combs, two-time entertainer of the year Luke Bryan, and five-time female vocalist of the year winner Carrie Underwood, as well as four-time vocal duo of the year winner Brothers Osborne.
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Here, we take a look at six of the best moments from Saturday’s performances.
Golden-voiced Mississippi native Randy Houser launched the evening with “How Country Feels.” His set was brief but impactful, including renditions of his 2013 hit “Running Out of Moonlight” and his newly-released song, the wisdom-packed “Note to Self.” “It’s a big honor any time the Country Music Association asks you to do anything,” Houser told the crowd, then recalling seeing an early CMA Fest performance from Darryl Worley and dreaming of playing the coveted CMA festival. The set’s zenith came with the 2015-released ballad “Like a Cowboy,” a tour de force of his formidable vocal abilities which had the audience cheering.
It Ain’t Their Fault
Brothers Osborne turned in one of the rowdiest sets of the evening, ratcheting up their melding of country, rock, soul, funk and disco through songs including “Shoot Me Straight,” “I’m Not For Everyone” and “Stay a Little Longer.” TJ’s gritty voice a perfect foil for the sibling duo’s smooth harmonies and his brother John’s precise-yet-greasy guitar work, which often served as practically a third voice within the group. As they performed songs from their album Skeletons, two giant robotic skeletons traversed the stage behind them, adding a quirky spin to their live show. But ultimately, it was the duo’s 2017 top 15 Country Airplay hit “Ain’t My Fault” that drew the biggest response from the party-ready crowd.
Frank Ray and Mitchell Tenpenny Give the Small Stage a Big Sound
Newcomers Frank Ray and Mitchell Tenpenny commandeered the satellite stage at Nissan Stadium. Though Ray opted to forgo his excellent Latin music-infused track “Streetlights,” his performance included “Country’d Look Good on You,” which is currently at No. 23 on the Country Airplay chart. Meanwhile, Tenpenny’s rendition of “Drunk Me” drew a surprisingly strong singalong moment from the crowd.
Luke Combs Proves Why He’s EOY
Combs took the stage with little fanfare on Saturday evening, wasting no time in launching into “When It Rains It Pours” and the razor-sharp kiss-off “Cold as You.” Combs also reflected on the rocket ride his career has taken in just six years. He recalled how back in 2016, he first played his breakthrough hit “Hurricane” at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia, for a crowd of 83 people. Saturday night, he performed the hit in front of what he estimated was 67,000 screaming fans. As he ran through a string of hits that have entrenched themselves at the top of the Country Airplay chart, including “Beautiful Crazy” and “Forever After All,” stalking the stage, throwing his signature red solo cup of beer into the crowd (as well as his baseball hat), and letting his thousand-watt voice lead the way, proving why he’s fast become one of country music’s most consistent hitmakers.
Combs is gearing up for some memorable moments, both professionally and personally. His upcoming album, Growin’ Up, will release June 24, and Combs told the CMA Fest crowd that his Nissan Stadium show will mark the final show he plays before he and his wife Nicole welcome their first child, a boy. He also previewed a new song from the album, “The Kind of Love We Make,” which releases later this week.
A Master Class in Partying
Over the past 15 years, two-time CMA entertainer of the year Luke Bryan has built his career on party-ready fare such as “Don’t Want This Night to End,” “One Margarita,” and “Crash My Party,” and led the crowd down memory lane Saturday night with several of those songs. Bryan was rarely still, keeping the crowd hyped by venturing to the edge of the crowd, shaking hands with the audience, and offering his signature, at times goofy and fun-loving dance moves. But it was one of his set’s very few quieter moments, with the Chris Stapleton and Brett Beavers-penned “Drink a Beer,” that had the majority of the crowd shining their cell phone lights in honor of a loved one. The tender moment didn’t last long, as Bryan had plenty more party-ready tunes ahead, including “Huntin,’ Fishin,’ and Lovin’ Every Day” and his ultimate crowd-pleaser, “Country Girl (Shake It For Me).”
A Woman’s Work
Last year, when Carrie Underwood served as the final headlining performer for CMA Summer Jam, following sets by Blake Shelton and Bryan, she told the crowd, “I think everybody knew that closing this thing down was a woman’s work.” That’s exactly what she did on Saturday night at CMA Fest, showcasing just why she’s one of the premier vocalists in any musical genre — and yet again, why a CMA entertainer of the year win is long overdue. Standing center stage and wielding a guitar, Underwood launched her set with a moody rendition of “Church Bells,” before keeping the energy high as she danced and swayed through “Good Girl” and “Undo It.” Underwood released her newest album, Denim & Rhinestones, on Friday (June 10) and her Saturday night set included the album’s first single “Ghost Story,” as well as the ’80s pop-soaked title track.
But it was Underwood’s breakthrough hit, the Brett James, Gordon Sampson and Hillary Lindsey-penned inspirational hit “Jesus Take The Wheel,” that proved the evening’s most memorable performance as she expertly paired it with a hair-raising, soul-elevating rendition of the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” “That’s one of the things I love about country music,” Underwood told the crowd. “We can sing about those things that are important to us. I think we all just went to church on Saturday night in downtown Nashville.” It was ultimately timeless older songs from Underwood’s catalog that brought the loudest response, including the dramatic “Blown Away” and “Before He Cheats,” as Underwood let the fervent crowd become “backup singers,” taking over the chorus as she unleashed a wave of vocal perfection.
CMA Fest runs June 9-12 in downtown Nashville.