As I approach the Nashville skyline, country music fans come into view. Thousands of listeners flock to the country music hub for one all-inclusive, event-filled, concert overload.
Nissan Stadium is bustling with event lanyards and cowboy boots as the hot Nashville sun beams down.
I find my seat among many.
At the sound of the National Anthem being sung by the Oak Ridge Boys, the night begins. Not without a few choruses of their 1981 hit, “Elvira.”
His warm welcome is an indication of the shift in country music. Alike many, his music flirts with rap while remaining thematically loyal to his country upbringing.
It’s his first time preforming at the CMA Fest- the largest gig he’s ever rocked.
“Never Found You” and “What’s Mine is Yours” open his set, “Heaven” and What Ifs” follow.
Dan + Shay
Several ladies from Vancouver (Canadian country music fans!!) are seated next to me, as soon as Dan + Shay take the stage they lean over and acknowledge what a dreamboat Dan Smyers is.
The sun has set and the temperature is dropping. It was our first week / At Myrtle Beach / Where it all began, “19 You + Me” is a sweet introduction and ode to their first album.
Phone “lighters” brighten the stadium as the duo turn up the sap with “From the Ground Up.” A Justin Timberlake cover has everyone dancing right before “How Not To” strums a few heartstrings. Or at least it does mine.
He occupies the stage in front of around 40,000 fans in the most casual fashion- but isn’t the how country music rolls? A ball cap and jeans will do.
His set recounts hits from over the years: “Alright,” “Homegrown Honey,” “Come Back Song,” “For the First Time,” and of course “Wagon Wheel.”
For some reason Darius Rucker preforms “For the First Time” twice. It’s okay, the crowd does not seem to mind, those who do and don’t realize.
Guitars blazing, “It Ain’t My Fault” shakes the stadium. The duo shows off new songs from their album Port Saint Joe that are a new take on outlaw country, like “Weed, Whiskey and Willie.”
Their guitar heavy set ends with “Stay a Little Longer.”
Sadly, I don’t get my wish… “21 Summer” doesn’t make the setlist.
It’s easy to forget just how many quintessential new country songs belong the man on stage in tight jeans, a thick wristband and a cowboy hat.
When the lights come on, everybody’s screaming / Lighters in the sky, yeah, everybody’s singing, what song lyrics could be better for a mega country music festival?
From there, “Tattoos on This Town,” “Dirt Road Anthem,” “She’s Country,” and “Any Ol Barstool” are among the songs that remind the crowd of their own small towns and history with his songs.
The night ends in fireworks.