One of our favorite things the last two years during CMAFest, has been the SiriusXM The Highway Finds stage. The Highway is always playing new artists trying to break through and they are referred to as “Highway Finds”. Both Florida Georgia Line and Cole Swindell were once Highway Finds. The show, the last two years had been on a small stage in front of the Hard Rock Café with a tiny acoustic stage over to the side. This year though, things changed. CMA and SiriusXM partnered up and moved the show to the bigger stage at the Riverfront and coined it the CMA Music Festival Kick Off Concert to be held on Wednesday, June 10th, with The Highway’s on air talent hosting!
Anyone with 4 day fest passes or with SiriusXM VIP wristbands were allowed to get into the Riverfront a little earlier than everyone else. Ed and I made our way down Broadway and got there about 9:00 to be told gates didn’t open for us until 9:30. At 9:30 quite a few people were in line and we all stood there and waited and nothing happened. Everyone in line were getting very irritated when finally at 9:45 they opened the gates for the early entries.
We made our way all the way down to the very front and took a seat where we planned on being all day. It was hot. Temperatures kept climbing as the sun beamed down. Everyone was fanning and chugging the water waiting for the party to start. They had the big stage where those artists got a thirty minute set then in front of the big stage was a smaller stage for the acoustic acts who had a shorter 15 minute set each.
To kick off the kick off concert was LoCash. Right at 10:15 they came on stage. Chris and Preston sounded great. There was an area close to the stage where fans could stand and LoCash had a pretty decent sized fan base standing there singing along to every song. They did some of their older stuff, a new song called “Drunk, Drunk”, told that their next single will be “Shipwrecked” (which sounds great) and did their current single “I Love This Life”. LoCash was the perfect ones to get the party started.
JESSIE JAMES DECKER
First up on the acoustic stage was the very pretty, very pregnant Jessie James Decker. The Highway has been playing her song “Clint Eastwood” for a little while with a favorable response from the Highway audience. As Jessie James, in 2009 she released a pop album with the single “Wanted” peaking at number 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. She was not happy doing pop describing herself as a country girl at heart.
At 11:00 the band that we were probably the most excited to see came out on stage! A Thousand Horses. We heard a little song by them on The Highway’s show On the Horizon over a year ago called “Drunk Dial” and loved it. So last year during CMAFest we were lucky enough to see them perform on the BMI stage one night and they were incredible. A lot has happened for them in that year. They signed with Republic Nashville in 2014, released their first single “Smoke” which set a record for the highest debut by a new group and they released their first CD Southernality, the day before this show, on June 9th. They were fantastic! Southern Rock at it’s finest. I highly recommend the CD and seeing them if you get a chance.
James was next on the acoustic stage. We had a bit of an issue with this because he’s had a number one song, granted it’s been a few years, but still. It was the Number one song of 2008, “ Just Got Started Loving You”. When The Highway started playing his current song “Somewhere Tonight” I felt like he shouldn’t be played as a Highway Find cause he’s already had a decent career, he’s not an up and coming but they didn’t ask me, maybe next year they will. James self-released “Somewhere Tonight” in late 2014. He just recently signed with Blaster Records and the single is set to be released to radio in July. James sounded great, looked great so hopefully this song will do well for him on his new label.
The recently married Greg Bates was next on the big stage. He had been in the studios with Storme and Brit a few weeks back premiering his new single called “Sand”. We saw Greg two years ago at the Tennessee Valley Fair and while he has a great voice and we like his songs, there just wasn’t anything impressive. However, on Wednesday at the Highway Finds stage we were impressed. He sounded so much better, more energy, better stage presence…..he was great! Check out the new single.
On the acoustic stage was the Eastern Kentucky girl, Carly Pearce. We found out that she spent a year performing at Dollywood so made her cover of 9 to 5 kind of cool. Wonder what Dolly would think of her cover? I’d say she’s approve. Carly reminded us very much of Jana Kramer. We love her song The Highway is playing called “Blame It on the Whiskey”.
Reality tv contestant from the Amazing Race a Highway Find! Yep, Canaan Smith. First time I heard his single “Love You Like That” on The Highway, I loved it. We went a few months back to Cotton Eyed Joe’s in Knoxville to see Cannan and he put on a great show. We were excited to see Canaan again on the Riverfront stage. He came out and didn’t disappoint. He got the crowd going with his energetic set including a cover of Nick Jonas’ “Jealous”. He released an EP in March and his first album will be out later this month.
This was probably the biggest surprise for me when Jackson took the acoustic stage. Had heard “The Good Life” on the Highway, and I liked the song but knew nothing about the artist. Still don’t know much about him other than he’s from Oregon but he sounded incredible on the acoustic stage. “The Good Life” sounded great and I look forward to hearing more from him and hopefully more songs of his on the Highway.
What can I say about Parmalee that I haven’t said a thousand times already? Nothing but crazy energy when they are on the stage. It’s crazy to think that we heard their song “Musta Had a Good Time” on the Highway back in 2012 and saw them for the first time, by chance, that year at CMAFest when they did a show at Margaritaville at midnight. We’ve followed their career since and they’ve just gotten better and better. Was hoping they would do a new song for us but they didn’t. I saw on social media a few days before that they are in the studio working on new music so that’s something to look forward too.
My rock stars with song with country lyrics!
After Parmalee, the crowd dwindled to nothing so felt bad for Annie on the acoustic stage. Her single “Crooked Halo” was a great song on the Highway and she sounded really good. Found out that she had done background for Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker. Again, I think just really hard for these female singers to have such a distinctive sound to separate them from each other.
One of the best Highway Finds artists that the Highway has ever found! Another artist that we have followed from early on, before she was signed, when she was having to run her on merch table. We first saw Clare in 2013 opening for Parmalee at a bar in Indianapolis. We had never heard of her but she had a great voice and was better than most openers. A few weeks later, the Highway started playing her first single “Get Out”. In 2014, she released “Cowboy Side of You” and recently was signed to Universal with a CD to be released soon. New single out next week called “Move On”. Storme Warren said it best when he was introducing Clare, one of the the hardest working people you’ll meet. When Clare took the stage she sounded a bit different. Her show had more of a rocker vibe to it. Was great cause she can rock!
On to the acoustic stage was Outshyne. Again, the Highway didn’t ask me but I have issues with them being on this stage again since they were on it last year. I also have issues with them still being played On The Horizon. The first single The Highway played was “Moonlight Crush”. From the response on social media it was well liked. When they started playing their next single “Ain’t” they were back On The Horizon. If “Moonlight Crush” made it in to regular rotation, why put them back On the Horizon with “Ain’t”. Again my thoughts were not asked. They guys come out and start playing and then the band for Logan Mize comes out on the big stage and starts tuning their instruments while Outshyne is singing. First of all, anyone on that acoustic stage is not very loud because, well, it’s an acoustic set. Second, “Ain’t” is a softer sounding song anyway, so for those of us who really wanted to hear Outshyne sing it, we barely could because the tuning of the instruments for the next band was so loud. Their whole short set was overpowered. I really think they got screwed and if I was them I’d be busy next year if I was asked to play again on the acoustic stage.
Back to the big stage with his band’s instruments well-tuned was Logan Mize. We saw Logan last year on the Highway Finds stage after they had been playing “Can’t Get Away from a Good Time” non-stop. Even Logan, knows they played it like crazy cause before he played it this year he made a joke about how much it was played on the Highway. He has a new single they are now playing called “El Camino”. He said it’s probably the dumbest lyrics he has ever written but there’s always that loser guy in every little town with an El Camino. It is a fun, catchy song that is great to sing a long to. We thought Logan was better last year when he was unsigned. Now that he is with Arista Nashville, hope they aren’t trying to change his sound. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from Logan in the future, and look forward to it.
Ruthie Collins’ first track on the Highway is a remake of a Hank Williams Sr. song “Rambling Man.” She has a strong twang to her traditionalist-infused sound. She ended her set with a montage of female songs, including “Any Man of Mine”, “American Girl”, “Maybe it was Memphis” and “She’s In Love the Boy” and sounded great on them. (As a side note with the recent “saladgate” controversy did a great job to highlight some great past female singers who she hopes to join.)
Haley and Michaels have had 2 previous songs on the Highway, the first one being “Just Another Love Song” that included Lonestar’s Richie McDonald singing in the bridge and then last year a remake of the 80’s Proclaimer’s hit “500 Miles”. Shannon Haley and Ryan Michaels are a couple who just got married, after having their bachelor/bachelorette party live on Buzz Brainard’s Music Row Happy Hour. For their wedding they wrote “Giving It All To You” that they said was so cool to hear on the Highway while on the honeymoon. We were blown away by how they performed, they had great stage presence, loud, funny, rocking, and Shannon’s voice was incredible. Definitely grew to like them even more live.
Canadian Jess Moskaluke was, along with Sonia Leigh, probably one of the females we were most interested to see. She has had a big career in Canada, but just now getting going in the States. Buzz played “Cheap Wine and Cigarettes” last year and we loved it. She was good live and hope we can see full band performance soon, as I imagine she can get it going more.
Blackjack Billy we saw last year late on the Highway Finds stage and thought they were very cool. They have a fun, party vibe with songs like “Booze Cruise” and “Got a Feeling”. They just starting playing a new song on the Highway called “Why God Made Summertime.” They have a great live show and had a good following there. My biggest concern is there is a rash of Southern/Rock groups out there, like Parmalee, Thousand Horses, Cadillac Three, so it may be hard to breakout.
Adam Sanders is a songwriting buddy of Cole Swindell’s whose single “Somewhere You Don’t Go” just started getting played on the Highway. Live he did two songs besides that one that he co-wrote, Dustin Lynch’s “Hell of a Night”, that was much slower and twangier with Adam doing it, and Cole’s “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey”, Adam’s first #1 as a writer. We are seeing him again hopefully this week and look forward to more from him as he seems to bridge the “traditional” / “new country” line.
Dallas Smith is another Canadian import, who used to be in a rock band and it shows. He’s had 2 songs on the Highway, “Tipping Point” and “Wastin’ Gas”, but glad he did my favorite track, the title song from his current EP, “Lifted”. His rocker background makes his show great, and his voice really makes the songs memorable.
Sonia Leigh is a cool rocker with a different sound who’s previous songs on the Highway were “Put It In Your Pocket” and “When We Are Alone”. She has a new song coming out soon “Booty Call” that the lyrics are so funny from and even better coming from a girl’s perspective. As soon as we finish this blog we are headed to see her again, she was so good live!
I think if you read this blog or our social media, you know Ed and I are Highway SUPERFANS. But sometimes John Marks and us disagree. Haley Georgia would be on of those times. She is a young girl who put out a song named “Ridiculous”, and it is. We tried to have an open mind seeing her live, but wow she was bad. She can’t sing or rap, has horrible stage presence and the outfit that apparently came from Walgreens was bad, bad, bad.
Kentucky duo Sundy Best have a cool homage to their home state simply titled “Home” that talks about coming from the Mountains. Last year when Ed was stuck in Florida it was really poignant. Kris Bentley plays a cajon drum box with Nick Jamerson playing the guitar and doing lead vocals. They have a very different show, but had quite the crowd that they call their “Kinfolk” to sing along.
Old Dominion closed the day, we’d be in that sun for 9+ hours, didn’t think we’d make it but was so worth it. This was our third time seeing Old Dominion in 2015, so you could say we’re fans. We are glad they getting exposure on Kenny Chesney’s Big Revival Tour stadium dates. Their newest song “Nowhere Fast” just started playing on the Highway and we are glad to have new music, while “Break Up With Him” moves up on regular radio.
It was an extremely hot day at the Riverfront. We downed enough water and lemonade to float a boat (never going to the bathroom even once). These artists (most) are extremely talented and so appreciative of everything the Highway has done for them. As each artist thanked John Marks and the Highway I told Ed it could have been a fun little drinking game to take a drink every time one of them thanked the Highway and John Marks. All joking aside, we’ve been going to concerts for a long time, getting to know several artists along the way, getting to know some of the wonderful people at the Highway and it is really cool to hear the artists talk about how they owe their careers to John Marks and the Highway. It really is a big Highway family when they say that!
We have videos from most of the artists that we hope to get on our YouTube channel next week so go to www.youtube.com/ourcountryconcerts and subscribe and that way you will know when we get all of our videos from CMAFest 2015 uploaded.